Perseverance and hard work have been the key to building our community-owned early education centre First Years which celebrated 50 years last weekend.

Dale Moore was one of the first pupils at the centre.

"I was just 1 or 2 at the time and I'd been at Mrs Olsen's Kiddies Corner in the Coronation Hall before the centre opened here," she said.

"My mother felt there was a real need for something like this before our kindy years."


Melissa Bradley from Onga Onga brings 2-year-old Hunter to First Years three days a week.

"This is a top-notch centre with a family atmosphere," she said.

"A centre like this is the best support a working mum can have."

Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis told the Dannevirke News she believed First Years was "visionary".

"How many community-owned centres like this exist in New Zealand? What a debt of gratitude we owe to those who had the foresight, dedication and passion to start this centre. They are the true visionaries. It's wonderful children can be loved while learning and our community is very fortunate to have such a marvellous facility."

Wendy Archer worked at the centre in the 1970s, when things were rather different.

"There was only one building and I'd work from 6.30am to 6pm for 50 cents an hour," she said.

Founding member Barbara Ferguson said she can remember the struggle to keep the centre open.

"After two and a half years we had a meeting to decide if we'd keep going. We decided to keep going until the next Christmas and then things came right," she said.

Barbara became involved when she came to town to visit a friend in the maternity annex and wasn't allowed in because she had a child with her.

"I came downtown and saw Kiddies Corner and discovered Barbara Olsen, a mover and shaker, in charge," she said.

A committee was set up to fundraise for the new Allardice St centre, including the sale of $20 debentures.

"Thankfully no one wanted them repaid because we couldn't afford it," Barbara said.

The new centre opened in 1966, at a time when the world was in chaos.

"It was the time of the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy," Barbara said.

The 50th celebrations were an emotional time for First Years manager Lisa Bond.

"This place gets into your blood," she said.

"The founders were so brave to persist in 1966 and now my wonderful staff continue to work tirelessly to make First Years what it is today."