10 May 2023

Shire's top achievers receive recognition

| Sarah Martin
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Young Citizen of the Year Alec Stemmler and Citizen of the Year Jean Stephan.

QUIET achiever and lifelong volunteer Jean Stephan has been awarded Cook Shire’s Citizen of the Year Award.

Ms Stephan moved from Weipa to Cooktown in 2008 and has been a stalwart of numerous community groups and events ever since, most recently as president of the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association.

“Contributing, I think it’s in your blood,” Ms Stephan said.

“It really is good to give something back to the community and you get more back than you give.”

Ms Stephan, who has an honour’s degree in history, first became involved with the Cooktown History Centre, where she still volunteers, before joining the VSJ Gallery Association.

“Because of my degree, being involved in the History Centre just seemed the natural thing to do,” she said.

“Then I heard about this group ‘Friends of the Gardens’ and went along to a few meetings; I said what do you do, and they said we don’t actually go out and pull weeds in the heat you know. It turned out to be the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association.”

Ms Stephan said she initially knew little about the Gallery’s famous namesake, although she had met Ms Scarth-Johnson during an earlier trip to Cooktown.

Despite this, Ms Stephan was soon elected president, a position she has held since 2012, helping the association manage Ms Scarth-Johnson’s collection of botanical illustrations, 140 of which were gifted to the community of Cooktown.

Coincidentally, Ms Scarth-Johnson was also Cook Shire’s inaugural Citizen of the Year in 1991.

Ms Stephan is also on the steering committee for Nature’s PowerHouse, Cooktown’s information centre, which houses the VSJ Gallery, and is a passionate advocate for the Cooktown Botanic Gardens and local art and culture.

The tireless retiree has also been known to man the information desk and clear tables during busy times at the café and information centre, but said she never expected to receive an Australia Day award for her efforts.

“I honestly didn’t think for one moment I was nominated for the Citizen of the Year,” she said.

“It’s lovely, as I’m not one to sort of shout out about it all. I’m just doing it for the community, for the people of Cooktown, I guess I’m an inveterate volunteer.”

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