For 54 years John Howell ensured Nga Tawa School students had the best experience possible when training and competing in the school swimming pool.

The 92-year-old began his affiliation with the school in 1965, teaching students how to swim, coaching them to get better and later maintaining the pool.

Last week, Howell retired from his duties of getting the right chemical balance in the water and ensuring it, and the area around the pool, was clean.

Howell said he had more or less been forced to retire.


"I've been trying to retire for about 10 years now," he said and laughed.

"I fell over and broke my arm so I had retire. It will never recover, it just won't join up."

Nga Tawa School bursar Helen Campbell visited Howell at his house last week where she made a presentation to him and took him morning tea.

The school posted about Howell's retirement on Facebook and plenty of people commented.

"Congratulations Mr Howell, a big thank you for all your hard work over the years. So many of us have very fond memories of that pool," Bronnie Mudford posted.

"All the best Mr Howell. Taught my mum and me. Loved your navy stories and milk bottle lollies! Enjoy retirement," Katie Rose Cooper commented.

Born north-east of Newcastle in England, Howell moved to Marton in 1940 before moving to Tokomaru Bay and later returning to Marton.

Becoming involved with swimming was a natural progression for Howell as he spent years on the water with the navy, working in communications.


"When I was about 5 years old I knew I was going to join the navy," Howell said.

"I come from a naval town so I suppose that had something to do with it.

"You've got to be able to swim in the navy. I went to sea working with codes and ciphers and signals."

Howell's favourite things about the navy were the comradeship he experienced and the travelling.

His journeys took him to places such as China, England, America, Egypt, Australia and Japan.

"I was in Nagasaki just after the bomb dropped and I saw all of the damage. It was pretty horrific.

"Tokyo today is nothing like when we saw it. It was flat when we saw it."

Howell's children John, Chris, Paul, Darryn, Caroline and Bronwyn were all swimmers, some of them representing Whanganui and Manawatū.

His granddaughter Kylie is the manager of a big swimming complex in Perth, Australia.

Previously, Howell managed the Marton pool for 36 years. He said it is very important that children learn how to swim.

"That's why I think that the baths should be free for the schools. That's the way it used to be, but the council changed it.

"At the Marton baths, I enjoyed seeing the little ones learn how to swim. They start off frightened of water and end up being good swimmers. That's a great pleasure."