Many mem­o­ries shared

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By NI­COLA STE­WART

Crack­ing a hun­dred may have been a chal­lenge in her crick­et­ing days but now Eileen Han­d­ley has seen in a dif­fer­ent kind of cen­tury.

Last Satur­day, the Mata­mata res­i­dent cel­e­brated her 100th birthday at St An­drew’s Pres­by­te­rian Hall with more than 100 fam­ily and friends.

With her six kids and most of her 21 grand­chil­dren and 27 great­grand­chil­dren there, some trav­el­ling from as far as Aus­tralia, there were plenty of sto­ries to share.

‘‘We got the chance to tell some of the funny sto­ries we re­mem­ber about Mum from when we were kids,’’ said daugh­ter Wendy.

‘‘ Like when she used to chase us around the house with a ruler when we were naughty, or when she would join in with our wa­ter fights.’’

There were also cards from the Queen, the Gover­nor Gen­eral and the Prime Min­is­ter to open.

Born on Au­gust 31, 1912, Eileen grew up on the Al­li­son fam­ily farm in Tai­hoa, where she at­tended the lo­cal school.

She and her older brother Ernie used to run across the pad­dock to classes, which were held at the Tai­hoa Hall.

Even though she was ‘‘ a lit­tle bit lit­tle,’’ Eileen loved sport and played cricket for the school team.

‘‘I can re­mem­ber play­ing against Te Aroha and the bus we were in had a habit of break­ing down.

‘‘We ended up walk­ing for miles, with all our gear, to get to the game. But we did win, so it was worth it in the end.’’

When her fa­ther died in 1924, the fam­ily moved to Mata­mata and the fam­ily farm was leased un­til Ernie was old enough to take over.

Af­ter leav­ing school, Eileen worked in Mata­mata and was a mem­ber of the St John nurs­ing division.

In 1944, she met Jack Han­d­ley, a friend of her brother’s, and the fol­low­ing year they were mar­ried in the Pres­by­te­rian Church in Mata­mata.

The cou­ple set­tled in to work on the Han­d­ley fam­ily farm on Tower Rd and eleven months later their first son Ted was born.

When Ted was seven months old, Jack was di­ag­nosed with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and spent seven months in Waikato Hospi­tal.

After­wards, doc­tors rec­om­mended they move to Whanga­mata while Jack re­cov­ered and it was there that Jack started a taxi busi­ness.

‘‘It was the first taxi in Whanga­mata,’’ said Eileen. ‘‘We had no elec­tric­ity and no ra­dio phones. When Jack left home I had no idea when I would see him again.’’

In 1950, they re­turned to Mata­mata and started a taxi ser­vice here, even­tu­ally own­ing three taxis and a mod­ern RT sys­tem. As well as run­ning the busi­ness, Jack and Eileen were rais­ing six chil­dren and were ac­tive mem­bers of the com- mu­nity. ‘‘ We were kept very busy but we wouldn’t have had it any other way,’’ said Eileen.

When Jack re­tired, the cou­ple spent a lot of time play­ing bowls to­gether for the Mata­mata Bowl­ing Club.

In 1975, they were on their way back from a tour­na­ment in Tau­ranga with an­other cou­ple, when a car crossed the cen­tre line and hit them head on near Wai­hou Bridge.

Jack suf­fered ma­jor in­ter­nal in­juries and ten days later died in Waikato Hospi­tal.

While Eileen was dev­as­tated, she was de­ter­mined to keep her in­de­pen­dence and at age 64 she got her driver’s li­cence, which she kept un­til she was 89.

‘‘She would drive ev­ery­where in her lit­tle Corolla,’’ said daugh­ter Al­li­son.

‘‘Then even­tu­ally she traded it in for her red scooter, which she called Char­lie, be­cause she felt like a Char­lie rid­ing around in it.’’

Eileen kept busy with in­ter­ests such as the Mata­mata His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and the Cen­ten­nial Drive Com­mit­tee.

Over the years, she kept scrap­books chart­ing Mata­mata’s his­tory and Al­li­son said that not many peo­ple would know more about the town than she would.

She re­mains a sports fan and fol­lows the All Blacks and the Sil­ver Ferns.

‘‘The thing is with Mum, here she is at 100 years old and she still re­mains cheer­ful,’’ said Wendy. ‘‘She still has such an in­ter­est in life and what’s go­ing on.’’

Fam­ily: Eileen pic­tured with her six chil­dren, from left, Wendy, Ian, Ted, Al­li­son, Anne and Suzanne at her 100th birthday cel­e­bra­tion.

Ar­riv­ing in style: Eileen driv­ing her red scooter ‘‘Char­lie’’ to the en­trance of the hall where her party was held.

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