A matriarch of New Zealand kindergartens and one of Hawke's Bay's oldest residents, Nellie Stevenson, died at Waiapu House in Hastings last week just two months short of her 106th birthday.

With a kindergarten in Flaxmere named after her, Stevenson was a life member of the New Zealand Kindergarten Association, and at Queen's Birthday Weekend in 2009 became one of the oldest people to be named in a New Zealand Honours list, awarded the Queen's Service Medal at the age of 96.

Born Ellen Carter in Wanganui, the eldest of three sisters and moving from New Plymouth two years before the 1931 earthquake to live with an aunt in Hastings, her service to kindergartens dated back to when she joined the Hastings Free Kindergarten Mothers Club in 1943.

Then kindergartens were in their relative infancy in NZ, based mainly in town halls and other community facilities.


After leaving the mothers club she was elected to the Hastings association council, of which she was president in 1955-1957.

Hastings hosted the national conference in her last year in the chair when she was voted on to its national executive, retiring in 1965 when she was a national vice-president and when she was made a life member.

Already a life member of the Hastings association she was seen as particularly influential in getting kindergartens out of town halls and other facilities into their own premises.

She helped establish Hastings' first kindergarten in its own premises, and was closely involved with fundraising and building plans of at least seven across Hastings, Havelock North and Flaxmere.

Flaxmere's second kindergarten was opened in Chatham Rd in September 1975 and named Ellen Stevenson Kindergarten.

She also worked to lift the benchmark of entry to the Wellington Kindergarten Teachers College, and campaigned for better recognition of kindergarten teachers, including pay and conditions.

Heretaunga Kindergarten Association general manager Fiona Mason said Stevenson's contribution would likely be officially recognised at some stage.

"Effectively we're here because of her commitment and passion," she said.

"I first met her in her 90s, and she was still committed and passionate. She was still coming down to the kindergartens."

Stevenson, who lived in Waipu House for five years, was visited by kindergarten children even after she'd turned 100.

Stevenson, who was also a life member of member of the Heretaunga Kindergarten Association and the Hastings Bridge Club, married husband Ralph in 1938 and was widowed in 1981. She was farewelled in a private service.

Both of her sons and both of her daughters all live in Hawke's Bay. She is also survived by 12 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

The oldest age reached by a Hawke's Bay resident is believed to be the 113 years and 109 days of Florence Finch, who died on April 10, 2007.