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Remembering Norman Mendelson (OW1932)
Mendelson family scholarship
Wesley College has a long and proud tradition of educating multiple generations since its establishment in 1866. The Mendelsons are one such generational Wesley family who have valued their education and their on-going connection with the College through children and grandchildren.
Bryan (OW1962), a renowned plastic surgeon and Roger (OW1967), a lawyer and businessman, are members of our Sapere Aude Bequest Society. They are now also endowing a scholarship in the name of their father, Dr Norman Mendelson, as a way of thanking Wesley for assisting their father on his journey through life. The Foundation acknowledges, with enormous gratitude, their very generous support for this scholarship that will, in turn, assist students from refugee backgrounds to benefit from a Wesley education.
Roger and Bryan have written the following moving tribute to their father, who fled the Ukraine as a refugee and about their family’s association with the College. It is a story with extraordinary, contemporary relevance:
'Norman Mendelson was born in the Donbas region of Ukraine shortly before the outbreak of WWI. His original name was Noam Komesarook and from the age of about four months, he was left with his mother and extended family while his father journeyed to Australia to seek a better life for the family.
It wasn’t until 1922 that his father was finally able to return to bring his wife, son, mother and several of the extended family to Australia. This required a decision by federal cabinet to grant them permits; the government did not accept migrants from Russia because of concerns about spreading communism.The first eight years of his life were lived in tumultuous circumstances. As it is now, over 100 years later, Eastern Ukraine was a dangerous place. The Czarist Russian government was overthrown in 1917 and replaced by the communists. Ukraine had been a Russian province for five years, but was essentially without a government as various war lords fought for power. More than 100,000 Jews were murdered during this period and stability only returned when the communist government (the Reds) took control in 1922. This was followed by a massive famine which caused millions to die.
The family lived in Ballarat for some years before moving to Melbourne around 1926. Norman began life at Wesley with a burning ambition to become a doctor, something he had no possibility of becoming in Ukraine. His education was behind other students, as he had spoken no English until the age of eight. The school guided him, and he fondly recalled how important he felt when L. A. Adamson addressed him by name and spoke with him whenever he saw him in the school grounds. This personal recognition had a profound and lasting impact on Norman.
When he graduated from Wesley, his final report card had a comment added by his Maths master: ‘Sheer guts and determination!’He went on to become a doctor, married student physiotherapist Erna, and had two sons and two daughters. After a stint in the army during the war as a medical officer, he subsequently returned as a partner in a successful general practice in North Melbourne for more than 40 years.'
The Wesley tradition continued with Bryan and his three daughters, Priscilla (OW1992), Vanessa (OW1994) and Harriet (OW2016) and Roger and his three children, Tessa (OW1993), Toby (OW1995) and Sam (OW2003). The fourth generation are set to follow, with Tessa’s daughter, Saatiya, enrolled for 2024.
Bryan and Roger have plans to thank Wesley for taking their father in and helping him on his journey. At a time when there were few non-British migrants in Australia and very few at the school, Wesley, a school run by the Methodist Church, opened its arms to a Jewish boy with a traumatic past. They plan to establish a scholarship to assist ambitious migrant children to fulfil their dreams of a Wesley education.
Above: Debra, Harriet and Bryan Mendelson (OW1962)