Kihikihi's Hazel Barnes is incredibly modest about her Queen's Service Medal for services to local government and the community awarded in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours — but, with six decades of service, it is deserved recognition.
A snapshot of her working career and volunteer and community work shows a selfless woman who puts the wellbeing of others before wealth and possessions.
Hazel trained as a nurse, started her career in New Zealand and nursed overseas.
Although it is a nurturing role dedicated to serving others, she also quickly learned that she could apply her intelligence and people skills to affect change for the better — for fellow workers, for patients and for health, in general.
She had returned to work in obstetrics at Waikato Women's Hospital and was appalled by the common practice of adopting out the babies of young solo mothers.
She says it wasn't the fault of the newborn, mothers were grieving — help was needed.
Hazel talked to the mothers, asked questions and began to change attitudes.
She also became interested in Māori health, an area she says was overlooked and neglected.
It was in the 1980s she realised she could be more effective and bring positive change as a social worker, rather than a nurse, and she changed profession.
Even then Hazel felt she wasn't close enough to the decision-making and the money, so took her first steps into politics and stood for and won a seat on the then-Waikato Area Health Board.
There she worked closely with the CEO and financial team to bring about new attitudes and changes for Māori.
Over the last 30 years she has turned much of her attention to local body politics and has made significant contributions to the Waipā community and helped to revitalise Kihikihi – the town she calls home.
"I acknowledge all the support behind me for all of the projects I have completed over the years," she says.
"I could never have attained them without the willingness of the community to want change and to better their living standards."
Waipā district mayor Jim Mylchreest says Hazel is a truly deserving recipient of the award.
"Hazel is a longstanding and popular local councillor who has poured a huge amount of time and effort into making our community – particularly Kihikihi — a place where people want to live, work and visit.
"This award is a great chance to publicly honour Hazel for all that she has done over the years."
Hazel has been a Waipā District councillor for the past 17 years and previously served on and chaired the Te Awamutu Community Board.
Upon her initial election, she established a committee of local volunteers dedicated to reviving Kihikihi and her efforts have led to a large variety of restoration projects in the town.
Hazel says it has probably been her proudest achievement to help turn Kihikihi into a vibrant and proud community.
Her dream for the next 20 years is to see Kihikihi continue to grow and to be recognised as the outstanding community it is — and for it to be treated as such by council and the rest of Waipā.Hazel's commitment to community spans decades
She was a driving force behind the improvement to Kihikihi Domain, which hosts international equestrian events, and bringing together the various parties that use the facility.
Hazel has also been at the forefront of projects such as the development of the historic Police House and Temple Cottage precinct, she helped establish links between youth and various groups and agencies and always spoke for the young, the elderly and those who needed a voice.
In her earlier years she was also undertaking her job and voluntary work while raising her family of three children, for much of the time as a widowed solo parent.
She was a founding member of Waikato Asthma Society, Waikato Counterstroke Group, Waikato Equestrian Centre and Waikato Solo Parents Group.
Hazel was an executive member of the Hamilton Rehabilitation Association for seven years, a trustee of the Trust Bank Waikato Community Trust Board for four years and a voluntary marriage celebrant for 24 years.
She is an active Justice of the Peace, for the past 28 years, and is president of Te Awamutu Grey Power. All this just scratches the surface of Hazel's involvement and commitment to her community.
Her main attribute, that cannot be questioned, is Hazel's unwavering commitment to walk the talk with her constituents, and to never be afraid to ask questions and find out if there is a better way.