It was 1958 when Marlene Steele signed up to help out at the Opera House in Wanganui.
Last year, during one of her regular Facetime sessions with her daughter Gina, Marlene realised she had been volunteering on and off for 60 years.
"I think it's probably about time I wound it up," she said to Gina.

Every month volunteers get a list of shows coming up and they contact Shirna Matthews at the Opera House to say what they can and can't manage to do.
"This time I saw ABBA [tribute band] was coming up in December so I decided to go in and tell Shirna that I've decided to retire, but, I said, you can do me a favour. I've got a birthday coming up in December and I'd like you to give me the ABBA show."

Although a 60th anniversary usually means a diamond gift, Marlene says she would be happy with a star on the footpath.

The night the ABBA Show played in Whanganui, Marlene was usher for the last time. There was an announcement by the ABBA performers, Marlene was called to the front and they sang to her.
"I found a seat on the aisle and our manageress raced over and sat with me, which was quite nice because I was a bit of a mess."


Marlene lived in Wellington until arriving in Whanganui on Anzac Day, 1958. With a job at the hospital and board in Gonville, Marlene had to learn how to ride a bike to get to work. She laughs as she tells of her husband-to-be running behind her as she practised up and down Tawa St.
"I got a punnet of strawberries from my mother-in-law to be when I passed the test."
Through her future in-laws, she met the Amdram pianist of the time.
"It was she who suggested involvement in an Amdram show at the Opera House to meet people and settle in to her new home.
"I ushered for a lot of Amdram shows, but I also went in a few. That year, my first time ushering, was Oklahoma, but next year was White Horse Inn and I went in that.
"I've been in Fiddler on the Roof, The Great Waltz and quite a few other shows. My husband was always backstage and my daughters were also in shows.
"It really was a family affair."

Marlene had a break from the job when she remarried and lived in Palmerston North for a few years, but on her return to Whanganui she was back at the Opera House.
She has a collection of show programmes from over the years, mementos of roles played and shows ushered for.
Her last performance was Fiddler on the Roof in 1984 before leaving for Palmerston North.

On her return to Whanganui she resumed volunteering as an usher but her days on stage were over.
At this year's volunteers' barbecue, a regular Friends of the Opera House event, Marlene was honoured for her work.
"They really made quite a fuss."

After 60 years, Marlene says she will miss working at the Opera House, but she remains a member of the Friends and she will still attend shows.

To become a volunteer, call Friends president Margaret Johnson on 06 344 8984 in the evenings, or by email — or call into the Box Office and have a chat to treasurer Shirna Matthews.