by Rob Davis
One day scientists will have an explanation for Jos de Jongh.
Because Jos has achieved what 99.99% (literally!) of us Kiwis fail to achieve … he’s on the verge of his 100th birthday. Yet he’s still getting around like a youngster in his 80s. He’s still driving … although his 100th birthday did mean he had to go through a licence re-test. He’s still playing bowls … which probably in itself makes him the oldest bowler in New Zealand. He’s unbelievable.
Presumably, one day scientists will discover the secret to that longevity … a resilient gene … an excessive intake of broccoli … a lack of exposure to ‘the Game of Thrones’ … or whatever. But meantime Jos isn’t thinking too hard about it – he’s too busy enjoying life!
Born in West Tamaki in 1919, Jos was already driving his dad’s brand new solid-disk wheeled Oakland to violin lessons by the time he was 14. However when the family moved to Alfriston to break in a new farm, the hands that ripped out ti tree all day were no longer able to delicately manipulate the violin. Jos gave up the violin, but not the driving.
His dad bought a transport business in Kaiaua, and Jos found himself driving a Fargo truck carrying cans of cream from Mangatangi to the Franklin Dairy Factory at Tuakau. “Business was good,” recalls Jos, “and dad added another truck to carry general goods. The bloke at Dominion Motors convinced us that an articulated Morris truck was the story, and we started carrying lambs to the Westfield works for 8½d a head.”
By the time the war came, the business had 5 trucks and Jos was manpowered out of active duty to keep the essential service running. Just as well. It was on a ‘cream run’ when Jos first met his wife, Betty, and they were married in March 1943. “I did end up training at Papakura, but by the time I came to embark overseas, it was VJ Day and all over.”
After the war his dad bought 600 acres of bush-covered land at Kaiaua for £2 10/- an acre. “He sold the business as well, although we did keep one of the trucks to help break in the farm. We were lucky. A year or so afterwards the Dairy Board moved away from cream cans to tankers – and the contracts we had built the business on no longer existed.”
It was about 1953 or 1954, And Jos and a group of locals decided to build a tennis court at Kaiaua, so they could enjoy a bit of sporting leisuretime. “That’s when I also got into bowls,” says Jos. “We decided to also put down a bowling ‘green’ behind the hotel. Not a conventional grass one. We laid 30 tons of concrete and covered it with an artificial rubber surface. We also built the pavilion and lighting standards ourselves.”
After many years, the Kaiaua Bowling Club unfortunately got down to a membership of just 4, so the club closed and the remaining members joined up with the Hauraki Bowling Club down the road.
“Betty and I played at Hauraki until 1976,” say Jos, “when we retired and move to town. We joined Mission Bay then moved up the hill to the Glendowie Bowling Club.” All this time their daughter, Karen de Jongh who had become a ring-in to make up an indoor bowls team when they were short, was going on to bigger and better things in the outdoor bowling world.
Ten or so years ago, Jos and Betty decided that it was time to give up the family home and move into a retirement village. They chose Parkview Estate at Pukekohe, where they could be close to their daughter Karen and their sons still working on the farm at Kaiaua.
“We joined the Buckland Bowling Club just out of Pukekohe,” says Jos, “and we also started playing on the indoor greens at the Pukekohe Cossie Club.”
Unfortunately, Jos lost Betty a few years back. And Jos continued without his mate of 70+ years playing on the indoor rinks only.
Today, after over 60 years of bowls, Jos has a remarkable record.
He’s got 61 Club titles – from Hauraki, Mission Bay, Glendowie … and even from Buckland which he won as a nonagenarian! He’s got 6 or 7 Centre titles. “I never got a National title,” he laughs, “but Ron Buchan and I came close in the Pairs one year – we were put out by Percy Jones.”
Jos’s name is on the Pete Pyke Memorial Trophy three times, for having the highest aggregate over the season at the Pukekohe Cossie Club.
He’s also won the Easter tournament at the Kensington Bowling Club in Whangarei a number of times. “I loved the tournament,” he says, “we must’ve gone every year for 40 years. I remember one year we won it, the government had just decided to start taxing lawn bowls prizes – so we gave our winnings straight back to the club!”
They went for a bowls jaunt to the Gold Coast in 1999, and Betty ended up lifting the trophy in the Gold Coast Twee District Ladies Bowls Association Tournament.
But the biggest bowls occasion was joining a Waikato/Thames Valley Centre tour to Britain in 1966. “Jim Preston, the President and Freddy Reeves, the Secretary, organised the three-month tour,” says Jos. “It cost £2,000. We took the ‘Rangitoto’ across. We played in some wonderful spots …. the Guinness Bowling Club in London, the Drake Bowling Club at Plymouth, and many, many more … in England, Scotland and Ireland. Unfortunately, the girls weren’t allowed to play in those days, but Betty had a ball anyway. We went off afterwards and toured Europe, while all the time Karen was minding house at the farm. I think we bribed her by buying her a TV before we went away!”
Judging by the way Jos gets around today, he’d be the first one to put his name down for another Waikato/Thames Valley tour to the old country. And there may be many more bowlers who are keen to join him.
Thanks for everything you’ve given to bowls, Jos.