Years of dedication have earned Levin's Avis Barrie national recognition in the field of floral arts. But there's a tragic tale behind her hard graft, and it's all to do with one of Horowhenua's darkest days. Janine Baalbergen reports.

The most prestigious prize in New Zealand floral arts has made its way to Levin.

Horowhenua Floral and Garden Club foundation member Avis Barrie was presented the Muriel De Stefano Trophy during the national conference of the Floral Art Society of New Zealand, which was held in Palmerston North recently.

The trophy is given for diligence and dedication to floral art.

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Avis was nominated by her club, and though in a small town nothing stays secret for long, her fellow club members tried really hard.

Avis Barrie was awarded the Muriel De Stefano trophy. Photo / Janine Baalbergen
Avis Barrie was awarded the Muriel De Stefano trophy. Photo / Janine Baalbergen

They said it took some persuading to get her to show up to receive her award.

Avis, who has been a member of the club for 55 years, is very quiet. But fellow members had a lot to say, including that she is a "hard grafter and had been year after year".

The trophy had been fiercely sought after by floral artists from around the country since it was established in 2006.

Andrea Huria wrote the citation for the nomination and did all the detective work for it.

She said Avis' greatest strength "was and is the assistance given freely to the club and its members".

"Always supporting, helping, with natural modesty, and with no wish for thanks to be recognised for her input."

Nominations first go the regional conference and then to the national one.

Avis not only helped her local club build a strong foundation. When she became treasurer of the national body in 1987 she was horrified to find that society was extremely short on funds. With a team she set to work to change that, applying for grants, fundraising and organising events.

Avis Barrie received flowers from her fellow members to celebrate her receiving the Muriel De Stefano Award.
Avis Barrie received flowers from her fellow members to celebrate her receiving the Muriel De Stefano Award.

Two years later the society showed a profit of $40,000.

Fellow club member Glennis Bealing, who was club president in the 1990 said of Avis, "She was lovely. She never said no and was always available to help with anything and she could do anything. No job was too small for her."

But there's a tragic story behind Avis' dedication to the club.

On July 16, 1965, a bus carrying Horowhenua Floral Art and Garden Club members crashed at Rata on its way to a floral display in Hunterville.

Twenty-nine people were on the bus. The citation states six women died. A town was in mourning.

More than 1000 people turned out to a combined funeral for four of the victims in Levin on July 19.

Avis and her unborn child survived the crash. Today, the citation states, she is the only person who was on that bus that is still alive.

The citation reads: "The accident had a profound effect on her. She was so thankful that both she and her daughter Sandra, born four months later, had survived and in memory of those killed and permanently injured, she gave thanks by vowing to give back to the club, which she has done from that day to this.

"For her it is not about 'what can the club do for me, but rather what can I do for the club'," the citation states.

The large award also has a few sharp points, so "It will go back into the suitcase it came in," Avis said.

Horowhenua club members were very involved in the national conference this year and came home with two prizes, a third place for Barbara Blewitt and a merit award for Jan Stella. The conference attracted 305 registered attendees from around the country.