Pas­sion­ate kinder­garten sup­porter dies aged 105

Hawke's Bay Today - - Local News -

Ama­tri­arch of New Zea­land kinder­gartens and one of Hawke’s Bay’s old­est res­i­dents, Nel­lie Steven­son, died at Wa­iapu House in Hast­ings last week just two months short of her 106th birth­day.

With a kinder­garten in Flaxmere named af­ter her, Steven­son was a life mem­ber of the New Zea­land Kinder­garten As­so­ci­a­tion, and at Queen’s Birth­day Week­end in 2009 be­came one of the old­est peo­ple to be named in a New Zea­land Hon­ours list, awarded the Queen’s Ser­vice Medal at the age of 96.

Born Ellen Carter in Wan­ganui, the el­dest of three sis­ters moved from New Ply­mouth two years be­fore the 1931 earth­quake to live with an aunt in Hast­ings. Her ser­vice to kinder­gartens dated back to when she joined the Hast­ings Free Kinder­garten Moth­ers’ Club in 1943.

Then kinder­gartens were in their rel­a­tive in­fancy in NZ, based mainly in town halls and other com­mu­nity fa­cil­i­ties.

Af­ter leav­ing the moth­ers’ club, she was elected to the Hast­ings as­so­ci­a­tion coun­cil, of which she was pres­i­dent in 1955-1957.

Hast­ings hosted the na­tional con­fer­ence in her last year in the chair when she was voted onto its na­tional ex­ec­u­tive, re­tir­ing in 1965 when she was a na­tional vice-pres­i­dent and when she was made a life mem­ber.

Al­ready a life mem­ber of the Hast­ings as­so­ci­a­tion, she was seen as par­tic­u­larly in­flu­en­tial in get­ting kinder­gartens out of town halls and other fa­cil­i­ties into their own premises.

She helped es­tab­lish Hast­ings’ first kinder­garten in its own premises, and was closely in­volved with fundrais­ing and build­ing plans of at least seven across Hast­ings, Have­lock North and Flaxmere.

Flaxmere’s sec­ond kinder­garten was opened in Chatham Rd in Septem­ber 1975 and named Ellen Steven­son Kinder­garten.

She also worked to lift the bench­mark of en­try to the Welling­ton Kinder­garten Teach­ers Col­lege, and cam­paigned for bet­ter recog­ni­tion of kinder­garten teach­ers, in­clud­ing pay and con­di­tions.

Here­taunga Kinder­garten As­so­ci­a­tion gen­eral man­ager Fiona Ma­son said Steven­son’s con­tri­bu­tion would likely be of­fi­cially recog­nised at some stage.

“Ef­fec­tively we’re here be­cause of her com­mit­ment and pas­sion,” she said.

“I first met her in her 90s, and she was still com­mit­ted and pas­sion­ate. She was still com­ing down to the kinder­gartens.”

Steven­son, who lived in Wa­iapu House for five years, was vis­ited by kinder­garten chil­dren even af­ter she’d turned 100.

Steven­son, who was also a life mem­ber of mem­ber of the Here­taunga Kin­der- garten As­so­ci­a­tion and the Hast­ings Bridge Club, mar­ried hus­band Ralph in 1938 and was wid­owed in 1981. She was farewelled in a pri­vate ser­vice.

Both of her sons and both daugh­ters all live in Hawke’s Bay. She is also sur­vived by 12 grand­chil­dren and 21 great-grand­chil­dren.

The old­est Hawke’s Bay res­i­dent is be­lieved to be Florence Finch who died in 2007 aged 113 years and 109 days.

PHOTO / GLENN TAY­LOR

Nel­lie Steven­son at the bridge club, aged 100 years. She died on No­vem­ber 1, aged 105.

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