When Richard Atkins rolls down to the Taradale Sports Association premises in Napier these days he is filled with a sense of immense pride and satisfaction.

"It's improved out of sight in the last two or three years," says Atkins of the rustic pavilion, discreetly tucked away in the corner of the park and housing the Taradale Cricket Club, Napier Harrier Club and Greendale Tennis Club which comprises the association. It is the brainchild of visionary club members of the three codes.

"Yes, it has exceeded our expectations," says a beaming Atkins, after he was made a life member of the association on August 23.

In 1984, the suburban park was relatively barren so a group of men decided to do something about it.

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A year later Atkins, Simon Cowan, Wayne Smith, Keith Gudsell, Robin Dodds, Alec McCleland, Frank Price, Bruce Galloway and Bill Allison got the ball rolling, as it were, as a steering committee.

By December 1985 it was built.

Atkins fondly recalls the time he was association chairman when they won a car, which was the prize in a competition for clients of the now defunct Postbank.

"We still had about $25,000 loan still to pay off on the pavilion so we sold that car to pay it off. It worked out just nicely."

The 83-year-old joins the illustrious line up of other club life members in Michael Ashwell, Earl Stevens and Kim Morgan.

He says the new carpets laid down and more wall space created for memorabilia and honours boards all add to the majestic atmosphere at a club steeped in its own history.

Taradale Cricket Club president Kirk Doyle sang the praises of Atkins who not only has been integral part of a collective dream but whose selflessness is reflected in receiving the cricket club life membership in 1977-78 before the Hawke's Bay Cricket Association bestowed similar honours on him in October 2013.

In his role as a Napier sub-association committee member, Atkins had pushed for the amalgamation of Hastings and Napier amid the "very late night meetings".

Richard Atkins mentors an age-group boys' team during an annual Riverbend Cricket Camp tournament at Frimley Park, Hastings, almost eight years ago. Photo/file
Richard Atkins mentors an age-group boys' team during an annual Riverbend Cricket Camp tournament at Frimley Park, Hastings, almost eight years ago. Photo/file

Doyle says Atkins' dedication spanned endless hours of mentoring youngsters after he had retired from playing, fundraising while serving on both bodies — cricket and the umbrella association.

"He's our patron and he was on pretty much on the committee forever and a day," he says.

"He also was on the Taradale Sports Association to help those three clubs together and the pavilion and clubs kind of moving in all those years."

Doyle, who joined the cricket club in 1985 soon after arriving here as a university
graduate, says Atkins is probably the most constant thing about the association.

"There's no one else really been like him who has had that massive involvement so he's pretty unique," says the Lindisfarne College teacher who recalls seeing a modest cricket club in the corner of the park in the 1980s and nearby grass tennis courts.

"To have somebody of his vintage still with us who was playing at Taradale Park before the queen was having her coronation in 1954 is something special."

The Taradale Football Club also uses the pavilion premises but isn't a financial member of the umbrella body but uses the facilities as an affiliated member.

"They have been a tremendous asset," he says, adding the Napier City Council came on board because the association sheds house its machinery to maintain the grounds. The council part owns the pavilion premises, including the public toilets along the road side.

Doyle says it's unusual to find in the Bay sport landscape an association that accommodates football and harriers in winter as well as cricket in summer and tennis throughout the year.

"I can't think of any other sporting association that is sharing a venue and responsibility for keeping it going for so many different codes in one place."

He says it's a classic snapshot of Kiwi versatility and the multi-use of a venue throughout the year.

Appropriately dubbed the "godfather" of Taradale Cricket Club, Atkins remarkable loyalty stretches more than half a century at the club, culminating in helping a second-tier establishment earn promotion to the senior ranks of men's competition (now premier).

An all-rounder, he didn't make the senior grade until he was 35, after the Maroons earned promotion in the summer of 1972-73.

A great thrill for Atkins was playing alongside the late Martin Crowe, a former Black Caps great who was 20 when Atkins was in is 40s.

Taradale Cricket Club stalwart Richard Atkins and wife Dot during a function for him, involving several Black Caps, in February 2015. Photo/file
Taradale Cricket Club stalwart Richard Atkins and wife Dot during a function for him, involving several Black Caps, in February 2015. Photo/file

In 2015, Black Caps Ross Taylor, Corey Anderson, Trent Boult and Tom Latham were involved in a ceremony to honour his dedication to the cricket club.

Club members had dressed in authentic period uniforms to re-create his favourite photo — the 1904 Taradale cricket team shot. He has been a club member since 1950.

To cap the celebration, the Black Caps played a match with replica 1904 cricket bats made especially for the day.

Taradale Cricket Club was established in 1877 which makes it the oldest cricket club in Hawke's Bay and one of the oldest clubs in the country.

The son of dairy farmers, the late Alfred and Dorothy Atkins, he is one of seven children.

He received cricket training from his elder brother, the late Ian Atkins, David Dine and the late Ken Blundsen as a Greenmeadows and Taradale Primary School pupil.

In 1948, he made the second XI Napier Boys' High School team.

"I use to get up at 6.30 in the morning as a 10-year-old to help deliver milk in billy cans before going to school for five years," he told Hawke's Bay Today in 2013, in the days when cows were milked by hand.

His hard-nosed attitude to work rubbed off on his sport, not just on the field but also in his administrative role.

Atkins married a local lass, Dorothy, and they had four children — Ian (now living in Taumarunui), Karen (Napier), Robyn (Whakatane) and Brenda (Melbourne).

None of his children gravitated to the country's No1 summer sport but his wife's story was made in cricketing heaven.

"Before we married I took her to the park where she did the scoring."