By Ruth Wong
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operated the M.A.C as a boarding school for young men from 1913-1931.
On its campus of 266 acres (107ha), students received training in agriculture, construction, and religious and academic subjects. On February 3, 1931, the major Hawke's Bay earthquake damaged buildings at the M.A.C forcing the school to close. However, the legacy continues in the families and communities influenced by those who worked, served, and learned there.
Recently, around 200 people gathered, including local community whānau, dignitaries and supporters from around the country. Presenters spoke of this magnificent school and what it stood for.
Current M.A.C Sports Association president, Bishop Anthony Morley, spoke about the values that were taught at the school. "The students were taught to acknowledge God and act in faith and to live clean and wholesome lives," he said.
Church official, Elder Ian Ardern, spoke further about the historical leadership that strengthened the character of the men who carried the church through the war years. "When all of the missionaries were sent home after the attack on Pearl Harbour, M.A.C students were sought after and became the leadership of the church in New Zealand," he said.
"This is the hub of the church, the blessed spot where the Lord put some magnificent people," he said.
The oldest living M.A.C Sports Association Club members, Owen Purcell and Tiemi Whaanga, both now in their late 80s, attended the commemoration with their beautiful wives Tiria and Hoki.
Tiemi was a former M.A.C Sports Association president for many years and continues to support M.A.C Sports when he can.
Owen's father, Melila Purcell was a student at the college between 1924-1928. Owen recalls the stories his father told him about the college after the earthquake.
"My dad was working at the freezing works when the 1931 earthquake happened. The whole community worked together to clean up. My dad managed to get a few parts of the college to build a little two-man bach at Ruahapia marae, which was fell apart when Owen and his brother Sole tried to pull it from where it was erected to their family homestead down the road".
After a few laughs, Owen said, "These are the kinds of memories that came back to me from Saturday's event."
Old songs from the area were sung by a combined Hastings and Flaxmere Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Choir and students of Bridge Pa School, many of whom are descendants of men who attended the Māori Agricultural College between 1913-1931.