Russell Kerr has lived with his wife Pam in the same house in the Dunedin suburb of Maori Hill since moving from Invercargill in 1971.
That’s his ‘first’ home. His ‘second’ home is just down the road, at the Balmacewen Bowling Club, where he makes an appearance most days, even when the season’s closed.
He’s been a member there since 1988. That’s not an overly long time by bowling club standards, but it’s an overly long time for someone who owned his own business (until retiring in 2010) and was trying to make a buck at the same time as making time to play bowls.
“I left school and became an apprentice fitter and turner,” Russell says. “When I came out of my time, the company I worked for ended up transferring me to Dunedin. I became a shareholder 10 years later, and eventually bought the whole company in the late 80s.”
“Taking up bowls is the usual story … I got talked in to trying the game by the husband of a friend of my wife. I had no excuse … my son had just given up rep soccer so I was no longer tied up barracking from the sidelines.”
“I ended up loving the game. And loving the Friday evening get-togethers at the club. In those days there were 30 or so blokes at the club every Friday enjoying a bit of fellowship.”
“I even got roped into the Club triples in my first year at the club, and bugger me, we won the thing. I also got pressganged onto the committee in my first year, and I’ve been there ever since!”
Russell became ‘pretty good’ at bowls. And over the next 30 or so years, he accumulated 40 club titles. “No centre titles, though,” he laughs, “And definitely no national titles, although I went to the Nationals a few times when they were in Christchurch and Dunedin. We had a great time, but never qualified once.”
“I also loved going to the ANZAC Diggers Tournament in Alexandra every year. Again, we never qualified, but we met a lot of people and enjoyed the tournament immensely.”
What Russell also came to love was contributing to the club. And like most longstanding members in many clubs throughout New Zealand, he has taken his turn at almost every office in the club. Currently he holds the two most important jobs in the club : Greenkeeper and Bar Manager!
“I was Club President for a year, Club Captain for 10 years, a Centre delegate for over 15 years, a Selector, and I’ve been on the committee every year since I joined the club. They also made me a Life Member a few years ago. It was very kind.”
The other members can’t speak highly enough of him.
“He was an excellent bowler and still is,” says Club President Tony Borick. “He’s been Assistant Greenkeeper and the current Greenkeeper for many years (since well before my time as President). He’s also holder of the Bar Manager’s licence and looks after the running of the bar.”
“He’s an integral part of the club.”
But Russell is shy about being praised. “We’ve had some wonderful members over the year, and still have. I can recall one member who died a few years back. He loved the club so much he used to come in for his daily ablutions every morning. He was a very sharp bowler too … he beat Phil Skoglund Snr at the Nationals in the Fours.”
“His family scattered his ashes on the green without letting the club know. It caused a bit of a flap, because we didn’t know what this mystery residue was that had suddenly appeared on the green ... we even had it analysed at the University. That revealed all!”
It’s easy to understand why Russell enjoys Balmacewen so much. A glass-fronted clubhouse flows onto a single green, which Russell keeps in stunning condition. It would normally be first cab off the rank for Centre events, but misses out because carparking is sparse.
But they’ll always be a welcome from Russell at the bar.
“Tell me the secret password, and you might be able to sample my mate’s whisky from Ashburton. It’s the best : ‘Grandad’s Finest Spirits’ by ‘The Brewer.