Maureen Fenton is 92 going on 93.
Yet the Hunterville Bowling Club member looks like a woman 20 years younger … sounds like a woman 20 years younger … and behaves like a woman 20 years younger.
She’s recently had COVID, yet swatted it off as though it was a mere inconvenience. As a nonagenarian, she’s meant to be ‘vulnerable’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ideally, she would be out playing bowls at her club 150 metres down the road. But a couple of plastic knees have made it too hard to deliver the bowl as she would like to. She doesn’t want to be a ‘dumper’.
Maureen’s still living in the same bungalow in Hunterville she and her husband, Bob, moved to 48 years ago (Bob passed away in 1990). She lives on her own and takes care of herself … although you can’t help feeling that everyone in town keeps a caring eye on their remarkable kuia.
But Maureen hasn’t always been a Huntervillian.
She was brought up ‘down the road’ in Bainesse, a little farming settlement on the outskirts of Himatangi. After her father drowned while operating the floodgates on the notorious Manawatu River plain, the family moved to town in Palmerston North. “My first job was at the Manawatu-Oroua Power Board,” she recalls. “I remember when I got my first £3 pay packet I went out and bought new shoes!”
“I ended up joining the Police in 1957. There still weren’t many women in the Police … I was in the 6th intake to Trentham. I’m policewoman no. W155”, she laughs.
On completion of her training, Maureen was posted to Auckland. “Men were still pretty uncomfortable with women in the Force,” she says. “We were limited in what we were allowed to do. For instance we couldn’t go out by ourselves at night, and always had to get around with a man in the car.”
“I married my husband Bob, who was also in the Force in Auckland. When our daughter was born in 1964, I had to leave permanently - women couldn’t have children and stay in the Police.”
“Bob was transferred to Te Awamutu, and we were there for 10 years. We transferred again to Hunterville in 1974. We were quite happy with the move … I was closer to my four sisters in Palmerston North. And Bob had family there too.”
After Bob died in 1990, Maureen went back to work as a creditors clerk at Wattie Frozen Foods in Fielding … doing what she had always enjoyed doing before she joined the Police – working in accounts.
“I also did a stint as a volunteer at the Probation Community Service … one of the probationaries even complained I made him work too hard!”
But it was her skills with numbers that defined her contribution to the Hunterville community. She was gradually roped in to being treasurer (and secretary) of this, that and everything in Hunterville. That included the Hunterville Women’s Bowling Club, which at the time was a separate club to the men - as women’s clubs throughout New Zealand were at the time.
“When we originally came to Hunterville, I took up tennis. Then some of the tennis girls roped me in to bowls. I had played indoor in Te Awamutu, so it wasn’t a big change.”
Like many bowlers in New Zealand, Maureen found herself taking a turn at almost every office in the women’s club (and later the amalgamated club) : treasurer, secretary, match committee, umpire, coach, president, and these days ‘tea lady’. But it was the treasurer’s job she clung on to. And the members wouldn’t have a bar of her ‘unclinging’.
“You have to get everything right,” Maureen comments. “And make sure that everyone knows what’s going on.” The club members obviously appreciated those sentiments.
The local RSA also got wind of her penchant for numbers. And an RSA bigwig even approached her to be treasurer of the local association at the funeral of her predecessor!
“In those days, some of the blokes weren’t happy with a woman holding office in the RSA,” she says. “But they soon got used to it. I ended up being President of the club.”
Maureen’s willingness to help with the numbers (and anything and everything else for that matter) for all and sundry lead her to get to know many in the Hunterville community. “I got talked in to standing for the Rangitikei District Council, and I got in at my first attempt. I ended up doing 9 years on the council.”
She also raised money to create a historical mural of Hunterville as it was in 1890. It can be seen near the shops in Bruce Street, along with sculptures of sheep she also raised funds for.
Whilst it was no surprise to locals, it was ‘a big shock’ to Maureen that she was awarded a QSM for her service to the community in 2013. She was also made a life member of the RSA. And a life member of the bowling club.
Even though she’s given up playing, Maureen still pops down to the bowling club every Saturday ‘to put on the zip’.
“I wasn’t a stand-out player,” she smiles. “I won the inaugural Brookes Cup with the then President Tim Young, but that’s about it.”
I’m sure the members of the club think far differently All would agree that Maureen’s been a stand-out player … a stand-out member of the club … a stand-out member of the Hunterville community … and a stand-out New Zealander.
Thanks for everything, Maureen.