Helen Walker first learned to govern at Oueroa school in Central Hawke's Bay.
"To me Tomorrow's Schools was great - the skills we learned on the board of trustees," she said.
"Tomorrow's Schools bred a generation of governance-experienced people."
Mrs Walker went on to be on the Central East Region School Trustees Association Executive, becoming chairman.
For the New Zealand Singing School she is trustee and treasurer.
She is chairman of the Central Ethics Committee, a Kaitiaki/Guardian of the Turnbull Library, deputy chair of Health Hawke's Bay and a director of the Medical Sciences Council.
After her tenure as chairman of the Central Hawke's Bay Consumers' Power Trust finished in 2003, Mrs Walker was invited to stand as a director of community-owned Unison Networks.
The Hawke's Bay District Health Board had her services from 2001-2007 where she served on several committees.
That led to another related role. In 2010 she was appointed to the Medical Sciences Council of New Zealand as a lay member. She is currently a member of the finance and audit committee.
Mrs Walker is the president of the Waipawa Musical and Dramatic Club and on the fundraising committee for the Waipawa Municipal Theatre which successfully raised millions for the theatre's refurbishment.
The highlight to her public-service career so far was "the people I have met".
"The cross section of people has been amazing. In theatre they are a very eclectic mix of people and likewise the people I am involved with as chair of the ethics committee."
The future will hopefully bring more challenges in the business world - there were many similarities between arts and business management, she said.
"Unison is such an amazing company to work for - I'd love to get on the board of another company of that calibre.
"I'd love to get on a NZX board but that will probably involve more commercial experience."
Mrs Walker said it was thanks to a successful beef, sheep and deer farming operation with her husband Ian she was able pursue a public-service career.
Together they raised three children who have gone on to graduate from university.
"I was one of the generation that didn't work. We had a farm business to support the day-to-day living and the voluntary stuff tucked in behind."
The award was a "complete and utter surprise" and contributed to a "very exciting year".