When Griffith Can Assist president Olga Forner found out her friend John had cancer, she called him to find out how she could help.
“I don’t need any support,” was his reply, “I just want to get better so I can help others.”
This summed up 57-year-old John Sergi, whose extraordinary life of community service was cut short on Friday when he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.
“He pretty much did whatever he could to make everyone else happy,” daughter Anna said.
John Sergi was born in Griffith on December 29, 1960 – the youngest of 10 children.
“He had just one pair of shoes as a child, and would use them for both playing football and going to weddings,” Anna said.
Domenic Sergi emigrated from Italy with few resources, and instilled into his son John a desire to grow, produce, create and share.
John would become many things to many people, but he’s perhaps best known for his 30 years as kitchen head at the Yoogali Club. Despite having no formal cooking qualification, he was the original Master Chef.
Cousin and close friend Jason Restagno said, “he would cook a meal for 800 people, and each dish would taste like it would at a family dinner”.
John also baked bread; farmed peaches, oranges and grapes; sold solar panels; owned racehourses; raised three children and was president of both Yoogali Football Club and the Calabresi Committee.
“The Calabresi Committee would raise a lot of funds for charity,” Anna said.
While charity was a huge part of John’s life, nobody really knows the extent of his generosity.
He wasn’t one to appear in the newspapers handing over a giant cheque.
“He thought, if you’re going to give to charity, why do you have to brag about it?” Anna said, adding that even she didn’t know all the beneficiaries of her father’s generosity.
But behind the scenes, MIA fundraisers always knew where they could turn.
“Whenever I needed something, I knew who to call first,” Griffith Can Assist president Olga Forner said.
“When John got sick himself, he thought ‘now I know how those families feel’. It made him want to do more.”
“He did so much fundraising for us and made a lot of personal donations”.
John’s generosity extended far beyond the financial.
Daughter Anna told of one time when his cousin’s wedding in Sydney occured the night before a major function in Griffith, where John had to cater for 900 people.
“He wasn’t going to disappoint his cousin, nor the people at the function,” Anna said.
He drove seven hours to Sydney in the afternoon, celebrated his cousin’s wedding for a couple of hours, before driving back to Griffith at 10pm so he wouldn’t miss the function.
Family was everything to John. In addition to daughter Anna, 29, he had two sons – Domenic, 26, and Vince, 21. He was married to wife Rosa for 33 years.
“If Dad didn’t speak to us six times a day, we’d think there was something wrong,” Anna said.
But the ultimate nice guy also knew how to get down and fight when his community was threatened.
When Leeton’s Letona Co-operative Cannery was being financially sunk by cheap imports in the early 1990s, John went to Sydney; and stood on the streets as the TV cameras filmed him giving away peaches for free.
“It was to show everyone what was happening to the farmers back home. They were being made to give their produce away for next to nothing,” Anna said.
“He was also on the frontline to fight when they tried to take our water away,” Anna said.
Cousin and close friend Jason Restagno said, “I can’t put into words the loss he is for our community”.
“I’ve never seen anyone have such an affect on so many people… kids loved him as much as the elderly”.
“This is a huge blow for the Griffith community”.
John Sergi’s funeral will be held Sacred Heart Church on Tuesday at 1pm. All welcome