Frank Bax is one of those rural Kiwis imbued with the values of yesteryear – when neighbours unconditionally helped neighbours; when people unreservedly pitched in to help the community; when volunteerism was as important as a vocation.
Frank was just brought up to help. Not to help for a pat on the back. But just to help, because that’s something you naturally did. “I promised Cheryl when I married her that I wouldn’t poke my nose in to other people’s business,” laughs Frank, “but nothing’s worked out further from the truth.” And rather than being seen as a busy-body, locals have embraced Frank (and his wife Cheryl) as tireless contributors to the Thames Valley community.
And a Queen’s Service Medal in this year’s New Year’s Honours, has finally recognised that service. As well as the service to lawn bowls over the years.
In 1966, Frank started a dairy farm at a barely-marked place on the Thames Valley map called Wharepoa. City girl Cheryl joined him in 1969. But it took 30 years before Frank popped in to the bowling club down the road one day – Hikutaia – and started his love affair with bowls.
“I was a pretty good bowler in my day,” says Frank, “I won a number of under 5 tournaments as a junior; and numerous club and centre titles.” But arthritis incapacitated Frank, and these days he has become “just a bowler”.
The arthritis lead Frank to discovering what he loves most : bowls administration. And as a result, he began to put up his hand to anything and everything at the Hikutaia Bowling Club, the Thames Valley Centre, the Waitoa Bowling Club, the Thames Valley Greenkeeper’s Association and more. Frank lived and breathed bowls in the area.
Frank became hot on bowls in secondary schools, and it was one of the young beneficiaries of his vision – Taylor Horn from Mercury Bay Area School, who won the Summerset National Singles title this year.
He spearheaded the holding of the National Greenkeepers Association Conference in Whangamata last year, where a record 107 registrants enjoyed Coromandel hospitality while debating the merits of brown top versus maniototo.
At the same time, Frank was helping in the community.
Early on, he had become involved in the New Zealand Holstein Friesian Association, and as a shy farmer he had been asked to say a few words. Nothing came out. As difficult as it is to imagine, Frank was too scared to publicly speak. “Now they can’t shut me up,” laughs Frank.
The newly garrulous Frank became involved in New Zealand Young Farmers, the Hikutaia School Centennial (as well as the 125th reunion), saving and restoring the Hikutaia Church, and fundraising for the Alley Memorial Park – a park opened in 1923 as a memorial to fallen soldiers in World War 1.
That doesn’t include Frank’s voluntary St John’s work “Chatting up the women and talking to the men” in the Thames Hospital.
In April, Frank and Cheryl will make their way down to Government House in Wellington for his investiture. His two children, and two grandchildren may join the party.
And so may many bowlers in Hikutaia, in the Thames Valley, and throughout New Zealand. At least in spirit anyway, recognising a job well done in the bowling world.
Thanks for all the hard work, Frank.