Despite being born in New Zealand and not visiting Croatia until late in life, Nick Puharich has always been proud of his Dalmatian heritage - something that shines through in his volunteer service to the Dargaville community, spanning almost 60 years.

Mr Puharich has received a Queen's Service Medal for services to the community in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours list.

"I'm absolutely delighted and overawed," the 85-year-old said. "You don't expect these things because you enjoy it all, and you're rewarded with the friendships you develop with so many people."

From age 17 Mr Puharich was involved with Dargaville's Dalmatian Social Club - now called the Dalmatian Cultural Club - and was a member of the committee that built the club hall, still well used today. He has served three terms as the club's president and has played in the club's Tamburica band since it formed in 1957.

Advertisement

"I was so proud of my parents' culture and their outlook on life," Mr Puharich said. "They had very little in the way of assets but there was a great family situation, a great love within the family and they would always tell me about how they lived in their youth."

Mr Puharich visited Croatia for the first time in 2005. "I sat by my grandparents' graves, it was wonderful."

He also served as president of Dargaville Museum for six years, where he worked on many projects including the building and extension of the Gum Hall. He was a member of the Dargaville Pioneer Trust, which erected a memorial statue in 1997 to honour Yugoslavian gumdigger settlers. Among his proudest achievements is serving 50 years with Dargaville Lions Club.

"But I think greatest satisfaction is the Stroke Club," he said. In 1988 he suffered a stroke. Mr Puharich set up Dargaville Stroke Club and remains its president and organiser.