Giggles with grandpa

Giggles with grandpa

All grandads are special, but 70-year-old Henk Leenstra is a little more special than most. Full of positive energy and passionate about children, Henk spends his free time helping others and making people smile.

You cannot help but be instantly inspired when meeting Henk. Despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer, this charismatic father of five and proud grandfather of eight has made it his life’s mission to bring joy and happiness to small children.

When Henk isn’t at his desk running his own advisory business and taking on his role as a non-executive director of an international bank, you’ll typically find him assisting with the company’s corporate social investment program, where he is currently project managing the building of five libraries for the poorest schools in rural areas.

“I am a positive person who has lots of energy and is fully committed to adding value to whatever task I undertake. I didn’t see the inside of a hospital as a patient for the first 65 years of my life. However, in the last four years, I have had a slipped disk, had two new knee operations, been diagnosed as a diabetic and, in 2014, I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer.” After intensive testing last year Henk discovered that the cancer had spread to his abdomen and a large tumour had developed close to his lungs. The cancer is incurable, but hormone injections, brachytherapy, radiation and chemotherapy help to contain the growth. “When I heard the word ‘cancer’ I naturally felt my life was threatened and death suddenly became a reality. As a Christian I am reminded of God’s immense love for us and that He has a plan for each one of us.”

With the stage four cancer diagnosis, Henk says he realised God’s plan for his life and decided to use his battle as a platform to inspire others. “I am an early riser, which means I have 16 hours every day to honour Him and tell others about salvation.”

Apart from hosting a cancer support group, Henk’s true passion lies in his love for little children. “Having been blessed with eight grandkids, I felt the need to create something special that would allow me to savour the times we are together. I built a puppet house and started to collect puppets. Then, I was fortunate to secure a few costumes of popular characters and I started using my garage as the kids’ ‘play station’.” Now Henk and his wife Linda’s garage is fully kitted, to give the kids as much pleasure as possible! With everything from Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse to bunny named Harvey and Henk’s personal favourite, Panda Bear, the garage even has shelves for his costume heads and rows upon rows of beautiful puppets. Performances usually take place at family birthdays and, occasionally, at local play centres, coffee shops and orphanages.

“I love seeing the expressions on the kid’s faces when they interact with the characters. Children are a special gift from God and I see God’s power and love in them. I love to make them laugh and I don’t want to miss out when they are having fun.”

Text: Monique De Villiers-Delport | Photographs: Melissa Mitchell Photography |



Get It Magazine (Ballito/Umhlanga) – July 2018

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