It's not every day the prime minister comes to town so we were delighted that he found time in his busy schedule to officially open the new Dame Susan Devoy Squash and Fitness Centre on Thursday.
It's also not every day that you have the privilege of having a facility named after yourself. Generally in New Zealand this is reserved for people who have passed from this world. None the less, I am genuinely honoured by this recognition and even more delighted I was around to see it happen.
It hasn't been easy getting the PM here but they say good things come to those who wait and wait we have. Twelve months ago we were looking for the PM to visit to assist with a fundraiser needed to secure some additional funding to get us over the line.
I tried through the appropriate channels only to be side-swiped by his gatekeepers in Parliament. However, not to be deterred, I ambushed him at the Halberg Awards with a hand-written note explaining our dilemma. I enclosed my mobile number and was somewhat shocked when before the end of evening I received a text, simply saying: "I will be there JK".<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />
Unfortunately less than a week later the Christchurch earthquake struck and from then on a series of events like the Rena, the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the general election were undoubtedly more pressing engagements than a visit to Tauranga and I certainly didn't want the PM to think I was stalking him. So we patiently waited and hoped that he may be able to officially open the new club.
You might well ask: "Why the PM?"
Well firstly, not only is he the leader of the country but he has a good squash pedigree.
Hailing from the Burnside club in Christchurch, he reached A grade and those playing the game will know that is no mean feat. It may be an urban myth, but hey, who ever let the truth get in the way of a good story?
Thursday was rather surreal, so hard to believe that after 10 long years we have finally achieved our goal.
Like most involved in fundraising for capital projects this has been a long work in progress.
It has at times been a rollercoaster ride with many twists and turns and so many barriers to overcome along the way. So it is testament to the volunteers and the loyal members of the former Tauranga Squash Club that we have built not only a new but a state-of-the-art squash and fitness facility in Tauranga that will serve our community well into the future.
We often hear of community partnerships and this is a perfect example of organisations and funders sharing common aspirations and demonstrating real collaboration. The land was gifted by Tauranga Boys' College to complement the Sport BOP sports hub.
If the Ministry of Education was at all concerned that we were trying to pull the wool over the eyes in regard to use, they can be assured that the college boys and staff are making good use of the facilities. I have never seen so much testosterone in all my life.
We are indebted to the many funders who have supported the project from the beginning. TECT (I wasn't a trustee back when they donated) and the Bay Trust were instrumental in kick-starting the project. More importantly when the global financial crisis struck and the economic downturn meant we were unable to sell our old property, the Bay Trust - with a very brave leap of faith - provided us with an interest-free loan to enable us to move forward and sell the property in better times. There were the usual fundraising efforts of club members - and some of those members digging into their own family silver - and the generosity of other trusts.
I hope that on Thursday they all took pride in what they have achieved.
So, the prime minister came and his appearance marked the occasion. He stopped and talked to people. He graciously posed for photos, signed autographs, got on court and smashed a few balls around (albeit in his suit) and didn't look in a hurry to leave, although I could sense his minders were keen to move him on to his next appointment.
This project took a long time and it took a long time to get the PM here but it was all worth the wait.