Stalwart leaves after 47 years

By Hayley Gastmeier -
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Patsy, left, and Ron Hughes, 85, who is retiring from Athletics Featherston after being involved with the club for 47 years. Pictured at their Featherston home. WAG 15Feb16 - LONG SERVICE: Patsy
Patsy, left, and Ron Hughes, 85, who is retiring from Athletics Featherston after being involved with the club for 47 years. Pictured at their Featherston home. WAG 15Feb16 - LONG SERVICE: Patsy

It is the end of an era for Athletics Featherston with long serving stalwart Ron Hughes retiring from the club.

After serving for almost half a century, the 85-year-old, who confirmed his retirement at a committee meeting last month, says he is leaving the club in good hands.

Mr Hughes was made a life member of Athletics Featherston in 2004, after becoming a committee member in 1970 and later serving as president.

"It's been 47 years since we got hooked in," says his wife Patsy, speaking from their Featherston home on Wednesday.

She has been heavily involved with the club herself, serving for a time as club secretary and treasurer. "We miss it already," she said, "but we have got a ton of memories."

Mr Hughes said it was sad to be saying goodbye to Athletics Featherston but, due to a recent serious illness, it was time for him to retire.

"The club's got a good committee this year of young people who might have new ideas and different views to what I have.

"I was going to retire at the end of the year anyway and I had a [health] warning so I thought I had better give it up."

For decades Mr Hughes marked out the athletics track on Card Reserve, as well as visiting South Wairarapa schools giving pupils a breakdown about the club and encouraging new memberships.

He also wrote the club newsletters and took care of the fundraising, which "back in the good old days" included selling raffle tickets in The Empire and Royal Hotel on Friday and Saturday nights.

"I used to get up at 5.30am and set up the track so it was all ready. I'd put out the finishing posts and all the equipment for the field events. I enjoyed it."

Mr Hughes said he had always had "a great rapport with children", who, despite teacher's orders, always called him Ron.

He remembers when he first stumbled upon the club -- by accident. It was when his son Garry, at the age of four, went missing from their family home by escaping through a hole in the fence. After looking around the nearby streets Mr Hughes heard children laughing and found Garry playing with two neighbourhood kids.

That evening Garry asked his parents if he could join his new friends at the athletics club.

"And we have been involved ever since," said Mr Hughes, who recalls his wife promptly ordering him to fix the fence.

Both Mr and Mrs Hughes received the Long Service Award from Athletics New Zealand 25 years into their club stint.

Mr Hughes said one of the most rewarding experiences with the club occurred just a few weeks ago, when a man named Riki knocked on his door. About 25 years ago the Hughes had taken a then 10-year-old Riki and his sister to an athletics competition in Feilding.

"Riki called in and he thanked us for all we had done, and that was great to hear. Out of the blue he just called in after all that time."

Mr Hughes said Riki had gone on to have "quite a good record" in athletics and had competed in the Oceania Games.

The couple said Athletics Featherston, where all their four children were members, was an important facility for children living in the area. "It gives them something to do rather than hanging around on the streets."

Mr Hughes said Featherston was no longer the "children's town" it once was, recalling a time when Featherston School had a roll of 598. "In those days there was just swimming and athletics and if you didn't swim you went to athletics and visa versa."

He said at one point an extra sprint track was needed to accommodate all the boys and girls.

In 2011 he was one of three recipients in Wairarapa to win a Local Heroes Award for his contribution to the community.

Mr Hughes still works part-time as a real estate agent. With the recouped time from his club involvement he hopes to get back into his garden and spend more time with his grandchildren.

He said during his time with Athletics Featherston his loyal friend Ray Wallis had been a huge help.

Club committee member Tiffany North said a new president -- yet to appointed -- had "big shoes to fill".

"Ron has been such a backbone of the club," she said. "Most people volunteer and join a club and help out because they have got kids in it and they leave when the kids leave. But he has stayed on and stayed loyal and raised money and kept it healthy the whole time."

Mr Hughes had worked hard over the years to keep Athletics Featherston going strong for the children of South Wairarapa, Mrs North said. "We are in awe of him."

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