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An 18-year funding partnership - and friendship.

Philanthropists Lee and Penny Stevens have always been strong advocates for the arts.

Through the Rua and Clarrie Stevens Charitable Trust, established in memory of Lee’s community-spirited mother Rua, Lee and Penny have supported a number of arts-related projects and organisations.

"We have, over the life of our Trust since 1970, always supported a segment of the arts sector, as my late mum Rua had a passion for the arts," says Lee.

One organisation they are particularly passionate about is the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, and for the last 18 years they have supported the APO through its Chair Donor programme.

Sponsoring First Violin Mark Bennett's position in the orchestra for such a long time has led Lee and Penny to build up a special relationship with both the organisation and the musician, and Mark says they have been an inspiration in their partnership with the APO.

"They have sponsored my chair in the orchestra (my position, not the physical chair!) for about 18 years now. In that time I’ve become closely connected to them, and have enjoyed many functions and special meals together. They take an interest in the various activities my family are involved in."

"I’m very grateful for their connection to me, and their support of the APO."

Director of Development for APO, Susan Wall, adds,

"On behalf of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, I wholeheartedly thank Lee and Penny Stevens for their ongoing support of the Chair Donor programme over the last 18 years."

"Over this time they have become cherished members of the APO family, and an integral part of our future. As Chair Donors, Lee and Penny enjoy a unique and close relationship with both the orchestra and their musician, violinist Mark Bennett."

Next year is also the 50th anniversary of the Rua and Clarrie Stevens Charitable Trust being established, which was resettled as a fund with Auckland Foundation in 2015.

Lee and Penny are both looking forward to celebrating this very special anniversary year, and continuing their close relationship with the APO.

"Locally our longest receiving recipient is the APO. In my experience, they are certainly a leading role model for how grantees could manage their funding partnerships."

Photo supplied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.