Rene Henke Obituary, Death – Rene Henke was a life member of Wellington United and a mainstay of the club. It is with deep regret that we inform you of his loss at the age of 94. Rene was a dear friend to many at Wellington United. In 1951, Rene left the Netherlands and traveled to New Zealand, where he eventually made his home in Wellington. In 1954, he was on his way to play a game of rugby for Onslow when he met a fellow Dutchman on the train. This fellow Dutchman persuaded Rene that he really should be playing football, and Rene ended up at what was the inaugural get together of the Zealandia Football Club. Rene was one of the founding members of the club.
Rene played for a couple of seasons before retiring in 1959, the same year that division 2 Zealandia defeated division 1 Miramar Rangers 3-2 in the final of the Hilton Petone Cup. Rene’s last official game was played in 1959. (then an end of season competition). Because of an injury, he was no longer able to participate in the game; nevertheless, he was already trained to officiate, so he took over blowing the whistle. In 1964, he became the president of the Zealandia club, which allowed him to become involved in the game’s administration. In an effort to keep the club alive, he was active in changing the name to Wellington United, and then in 1968, he was instrumental in organizing the merger with Diamond’s to establish Wellington Diamond United. Both of these events took place in an effort to assure the club’s continued existence.
Rene was given life membership in the new club, and he was also intimately involved in the group’s day-to-day operations. He was instrumental in recruiting many players to the club; one of his early duties was working on the docks, which enabled him to contact new immigrants when they arrived in this country to ask them to play for the team. He was a crucial figure in the recruitment of many players. He also went to other countries in order to get players from the United Kingdom. After returning from one of these visits in 1973, he was interviewed by the Evening Post and throughout the course of the conversation he made the audacious prediction that WDU will win the league championship within the next three years. The press was quite critical of WDU at the time because the team had recently been demoted from the National League; yet, in 1976, WDU won the first of their three national league titles.
Rene was also an advocate for the football community at large. When the Women’s Football Association was first founded, Rene, who was by that time the manager of the Royal Oak Hotel, donated the Royal Oak Trophy to be awarded to the WFA as a prize for the league champion. In addition to that, he served as a referee for the brand new league. Rene served as a representative on the Wellington Football Association and the New Zealand Football Association in addition to his work with WDU. It was during his time with the latter organization that Charlie Dempsey, who was the chairman at the time, dubbed him “that bloody Dutchman.” A club service award was bestowed upon him by Capital Football in the year 2020 in recognition of his extensive commitment in football spanning over 65 years. Rene absolutely adored making the trip down to Newtown Park on a Saturday to see Wellington United, or “his team,” as he referred to us, and this was something that he did right up until the end of the previous season.
It is difficult to put into words how much he accomplished for our club, and we have lost a wonderful friend as a result of his passing.
Our prayers are with his daughter Barbara and the rest of Rene’s family during this difficult time.
A private memorial service has been held in accordance with Rene’s requests.