For this final volume of the Hermanus Stories trilogy, I have gone to a great deal of trouble to include all the stories within my reach that are important to posterity. Searching high and low, I've covered more than 80, but the most difficult one to get hold of, was of a man who evaded me time and again" because he did not like blowing his own trumpet". Such a man is Jim Wepener, best known for his erstwhile Kenjockity Guest House and the Whale Crier. But his fame stretched a whole lot further than the guest house and I wanted to include his story in "Hermanus Stories III". After much prompting and e-mailing, I finally succeeded, and here is his story.
From an old South African family - the original Wepener brothers arrived in South Africa from Germany in 1737. Frank James (Jim) was born in Pretoria in March 1943. Early schooling was at Brooklyn Primary School and then Pretoria Boys High for a year. His parents then sent him to Kingswood College in Grahamstown where he completed his schooling in 1960. Trips to school and back on the train were always a high-light. A train full of high school boys! High-jinks all the way home and back - a long missed mode of transport in this day of jet travel. Jim played rugby for his school, enjoyed rowing and was an active member of the Photographic club, earning extra pocket money covering the school dance and athletic events.
After obtaining a first class matric, he was articled to Deloittes Plender Griffiths Annan and Co., referred to irreverently by the articled clerk as 'Dolittle, Plunder, Grab-all Abscond and Co'. Moving on, he worked for Arthur Anderson, Randmines and then Stewarts and Lloyds. After major systems upgrades and staff training in Johannesburg, he was transferred to Bloemfontein where he was responsible for setting up and centralising the accounting and administration for the Free State and Southern Transvaal branches of the company. From S&L he went to Olivetti as sales consultant. He developed programs for clients and pioneered software packages. As Software Manager he changed the department to become the first profitable software department in Olivetti, eventually contributing significantly to Olivetti South Africa's overall profits.
In 1970, Jim married Lianne (nickname Lee) Morton Long of Macauvlei near Vereeniging in the old Transvaal (now Gauteng). Lee went to Kingsmead in Johannesburg and was a Fashion Artist working for Greatermans when they met. They have two sons, Lynton and Jason.
Jim and Lee bought a small family hotel in Natal - Glenmore Beach. Lee loved the hotel life but it soon became apparent that hotel life was not the right environment to rear a young family. Disposing of the hotel, the family visited Lee's sister, Glenda, in Hermanus. Jim was on his way to take up another job in the information technology (IT) industry in Cape Town at the time. Always having had an adventurous spirit Jim announced to the family that Hermanus called - a much better place to rear a young family. Lee was mortified. "What are you going to do to earn a living?" she asked. "We'll survive somehow", was the response. After trying to set up a small IT business - nobody had heard of PCs in those days, Jim settled for buying a small building business from Etienne Schluntz in December 1981 and quickly learned the ropes. When his brother joined the business in 1984, the family bought an old fishermen's cottage in Harbour Road, converting it into three shops. The building was lovingly restored to its former charm, the restoration being the first in the central village area. This set the tone for much of the restoration and development that we see today.
The shop, known as the RR Shop (now the Book Cottage) sold decorative hardware, paint - it had the first paint colour mixing machine in town, garden furniture and braai equipment. Jim used to demonstrate a Weber braai on the front stoep of the shop on Saturday mornings. The tantalising smell of braaing chicken, boerewors and chops drifting down Harbour Rd drew many to 'kom proe'! (come and taste). No one had heard of Weber Braais in those days!).
In 1987 Jim and Lee felt that the shop could do better. Defining what they felt would work in their shop, a friend introduced them to Biggie Best. 'Overnight' the shop was converted to being a Biggie Best Shop and this proved an enormous success.
While Lee ran the shop, the admin for the shop and renovating business also started to expand. Photo copying and faxing services were offered to the public. Also secretarial services and typing – two books were captured to disk for authors in Canada and Africa. Clients of the renovating business asked for home maintenance and supervision of rentals. The latter grew into "Hermanus Accommodation Centre" a home letting and maintenance service, the first fully dedicated service of its kind in Hermanus. The office also operated the first courier service, being agents for Sun Couriers.
Kenjockity Guest House
The shop and building were sold and the Hermanus Accommodation (HAC) moved to its present location on the corner of Church and Myrtle Streets. It became apparent that more accommodation for tourists and visitors was needed. This led to Jim and Lee buying Kenjockity, the former well known boarding house in Church Street. They renovated the building, restoring it to its former glory and adding their own special style, thus becoming the first guest house in Hermanus in December 1991. In those days there were a couple of bed and breakfast establishments in Hermanus, but the concept of guest houses as we see today had not taken off.
For the next fourteen years Kenjockity became a popular place, where people of note and tourists loved to stay. To name but a few: The Israeli Minister of Tourism; United Nations observers for the first elections in the New South Africa; The Blue Bulls for a geesbou (building team spirit) week guests on foot, riding Harleys, antique Rolls Royces and more; guests out of their depth and guests from 5 Star establishments who preferred the hands on hospitality of Jim and Lee to the impersonal chrome and glass of smart hotels.
In 2005 Kenjockity became a boarding house once again.
From dealing with the public in their shop in Harbour Road and subsequently with tourists in their guest house, the Wepeners became involved in marketing the tourism potential of Hermanus to the outside world. In the late 1980s on seeing the whales from the cliffs above the Old Harbour, they used to encourage Lee's sister, Glenda Pope to phone the regional radio station 'Radio Kontrei', (now KFM), to tell listeners about the whales. Glenda became known as the Whalelady of Hermanus. Following these calls it was noticed how people streamed into town to come and see the whales and attend the Hermanus Whale Festival.
With Kenjockity Guest House. Jim and Lee became involved with the Publicity Association (GHACT today). They both served on the committee at different times and both served on COTA (Cape Overberg Tourism Association. During this time Jim and a small group of business people who were passionate about Hermanus 'invented' the Whale Crier which resulted in tremendous media interest in whale watching in Hermanus. Jim was the driving force behind ensuring that the Whale Crier received as much publicity as possible and accompanied him to the Town Crier's conference in the United Kingdom. At a presentation on whale watching to the Western Cape marketing committee, Jim prophesied that whale watching would eventually bring more visitors to South Africa than the Kruger Park. In 2002 Satour announced that whale watching had indeed brought more visitors than The Kruger Park and this interest continues to grow and the Whale Crier continues to be an important marketing icon for Hermanus. Currently over a thousand photographs are taken of the Whale Crier every week during the whale season!
Jim motivated the formation of a whale route and was a founder committee member. The whale information signs along this route from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay being a legacy of that time. Jim and Lee were founder members of the whale festival, and served on the committee for ten years.
Hermanus High School
Last but not least, I have to mention their support of the local high school. Lynton matriculated in 1989 and Jason in 1990 and since arriving in Hermanus, Jim and Lee were interested in their sons' school life. Jim was elected chairman of the Parent Teachers' Association in 1984. They assisted the staff in organising a major fundraising effort with the school's first 'Big Walk', which has become an annual event. Jim and Lee also initiated the annual dance of the school and the establishment of the Tuck Shop.
These two people have really done more to make a difference to Hermanus than many would ever realise. A lack of space prevented a complete report of all their achievements. But in their hearts of hearts they have become true Hermanusites who gave of themselves for a better place for us all.
Article extracted from SJ du Toit – Whale Capital Chronicles III, Page 105.
Should you wish to use any of her stories please contact SJ du Toit directly.