The kauri desks and chalk dust in the old school at Whangarei's Heritage Park stand as a reminder of John Hunt's 40 years of service to education and the communities of Northland.

The former Morningside School principal chaired the committee to move the Riponui Pa School building near Hukerenui to the Whangarei Museum grounds to commemorate a century of education in New Zealand from 1877.

The disused one-room school, made from kauri in the late 1800s, needed painting, a new roof and furnishings from the Edwardian era including a blackboard, inkwells and copybooks.

Former Whangarei Intermediate principal Bert Boswell, the committee secretary, said the chairman devised the fundraising idea of a spelling bee involving every school in Northland.


Matauri Bay School won the competition and $4000 was raised to complete the project.

Mr Boswell said his "great mate" John Hunt was known for his fundraising ability and his huge success in selling Lions Club Christmas cakes.

His army experience made him a "very good headmaster" and he was a well-known character, who was never stuck for words, Mr Boswell said.

John Hunt died at Jane Mander Retirement Village in Whangarei on September 15 this year, surrounded by family, aged 93.

He was born in Christchurch on December 27, 1922 the son of a South Otago coalminer.

He and his younger sister were raised in tough financial times in Kaitangata during the Great Depression and it left an impression on the boy when the community regularly left donations of food on their doorstep.

The act of kindness could have been the catalyst for a life of volunteer and trade union work including Boy Scouts, Civil Defence, Pakeke Lions, Lonsdale Outdoor Education Centre, Masonic Order, negotiating teacher salaries as New Zealand Educational Institute president, Northland Organ Society, RSA, Principals' Association, Speech Therapists' Association, St John and reading to Blind Foundation members.

Following teaching positions in Tonga and in locations around New Zealand, a principal position became available at Rawene District High School in 1963.

During his two-year stay in the Hokianga, he lobbied the Government to create area schools - a school for primary and high school pupils.

The area schools were often built in small towns where the cost of two separate schools could not be justified.

When the principal position opened up at Morningside School in 1966, the family moved to Whangarei where John and his wife Jean, who also taught at the school, became stalwarts of the community for many years.

He retired from the school in 1978 and focused on community work and travelling around the world with Jean until her death in 2011.

Three children, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren survive him.