Go-getter helped shape city's vibrant growth

By Sandra Conchie

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Ada Parnwell, QSM, with the Japan Cup, among the many trophies won by the horse she owned called Corndale.
Ada Parnwell, QSM, with the Japan Cup, among the many trophies won by the horse she owned called Corndale.

One of Tauranga's original movers and shakers, Ada Parnwell, who helped shape Tauranga into a vibrant city will be remembered as a real go-getter and "battler".

In 1948 there were only 3600 people living in Tauranga when she and her Tauranga-born late husband Bert moved here from Tirau.

It was while Mrs Parnwell was working at the Dairy Company in Tirau that she met her future baker husband, and the couple married after the war and moved to Mr Parnwell's home town.

Mr Parnwell and his brother jointly owned Parnwell Brothers bakery, the forerunner to Parnwell Bakeries, which Ada and Bert owned jointly and ran during the 1950s.

Parnwell Bakeries once supplied 90 per cent of the bread in the Bay of Plenty region.

Barely eight years after moving to Tauranga, Wanganui-born Mrs Parnwell was elected onto the Tauranga Borough Council.

It was a resounding victory for the 26-year-old who received more votes than any other candidate - even more than the then-mayor David Mitchell. She was the only woman elected to council.

Mrs Parnwell spent 12 years on council before she went on to help govern Tauranga Hospital.

While a councillor she agitated to secure the future of the Port of Tauranga by getting the Kaimai rail tunnel built, and led the vote for the construction of Rangiuru meat export plant.

In 1962 she campaigned for the council to put aside land for a university, anticipating the founding of the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic many years later.

Mrs Parnwell also chaired Tauranga's 20,000 Club aimed at increasing the population to the milestone figure needed to declare Tauranga a city - achieved on April 17, 1963.

Under her reign, the club built or contributed to Memorial Park projects, including the Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Memorial Pool, and fountain.

Among her many achievements she created the famous Orange Festival which became a huge success, with the reigning festival queen travelling the country and overseas to promote Tauranga.

She was elected to the hospital board in 1974 and called it a day 18 years later.

She was involved in a number of community organisations including Plunket.

Mrs Parnwell was awarded the Queen's Service Medal in 1982 - the day after her oldest daughter Elizabeth married Peter Martin.

Mr Martin, who grew up in Te Puke, said when he was reading about Cr Parnwell's accomplishments in the Bay of Plenty Times as a teenage boy he never imagined he would one day marry into the family.

"It's definitely an end of an era and Ada has certainly left her mark up on Tauranga and the thoroughbred racing industry in this country. She was definitely a strong character, and a real battler and you certainly knew Ada's viewpoint on an issue."

Mr Martin said that, in many respects Mrs Parnwell, who once stood for the mayoralty, was a pioneer and encouraged other women to follow in her footsteps to hold offices usually held by men.

Mrs Martin said her mother died after a short illness.

"Mum was never the typical housewife and mother. When my sister Yvonne and I were growing up she was always attending meetings. Mum had lots of energy and she was a real hard worker, and had lots of interests, but she always had time for us. I can still remember her reading me Black Beauty and the Water Babies after she had done her work," she said.

Mrs Parnwell was also heavily involved in the thoroughbred racing industry for almost three decades, as a breeder, owner and sponsor of races.

"Mum never liked to reveal her age. Every time she went to register a new horse she had to write down her date of birth on the racing form and she would write over 21," Mrs Martin said.

Described as the grand lady of Waikato and Bay of Plenty racing, Mrs Parnwell owned Cambridge Thoroughbred Lodge - an internationally recognised horse lodge in the Waikato.

The Parnwells' top miler Corndale won the Japan/NZ Cup in 1996.

Four of Mrs Parnwell's horses are racing at Te Rapa today and Race 5 at Trentham in Wellington today has been renamed the Vale Ada Parnwell Handicap as a tribute to her.

Racing Tauranga president Roger Hills said he was sad to learn of Mrs Parnwell's death.

"There wouldn't be too many people in the thoroughbred racing industry who would not know Ada. She was a very strong character and was revered for the massive contribution she made as a owner, breeder of racing stock, and as a large sponsor of races around the country."

A funeral service for Mrs Parnwell is being held at St Peter's in the City Presbyterian Church from 1pm today, followed by a private cremation.

Mrs Parnwell is also survived by her seven grandchildren.Sandra Conchie

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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