One hundred and twenty five years have passed by since Te Kowhai Primary School was established, and the area celebrated with a weekend full of festivities.

The reunion was full with 380 people registering for events throughout the weekend.

Among the past pupils was Hamilton-born opera singer, Dame Malvina Major. She had just moved back into the area and is teaching singing at Waikato University.

"The school is hardly recognisable," she said, noting that everything at Te Kowhai school and in the village had changed since she attended in the early 1950s.

"There's footpaths everywhere which there wasn't in our day - it's grown up."

She spoke to the group of past pupils and faculty reminiscing. "I loved the fact we were all in the same room and we learned just as well. I've made friends that I've been friendly with all my life and those sorts of friendships never go," she said.

Te Kowhai holds a special place in Major's heart - she had her wedding reception in the town hall where she used to sing as a child.

"This community decorated the Te Kowhai hall for my wedding. And then came sort of uninvited to celebrate in the evening.

"That's how much we were in a community," she said.

Although Major has lived in many places in her lifetime, she was very pleased to be back in Hamilton.

"I've settled in really well and caught up with old friends. It's great to come home."

The choir welcomed everyone to the school and speeches were made by students and staff, past and present, some of whom got to cut the birthday cake.

One of the best speeches of the day was from 22-year-old ex-pupil and teacher Natalie Dodd. Her affiliation with the school stretches back to her great-grandfather, Wes Hartstone, who attended Te Kowhai as a pupil during World War I.

She said although her family all went to the same school, their pronunciation of Te Kowhai are all different.

"It was a bit of luck that I ended up teaching here, but it's definitely what I wanted. I can't think of being anywhere else," she said. "I've lived my whole life in Te Kowhai, it's very special."

With four generations either teaching or studying at the school, it was a day with family for Dodd on Saturday.

Doug and Heather Hartstone, Dodd's grandparents, remember the school when three teaching rooms and a staff room were contained in one building.

His parents were married in the church across the road and the couple never considered leaving the town.

"Our family's about 15km away and the rest are all here, so why would we leave? It's central to everywhere. There's everything here we want."

Although all their experiences of the school are different, there is one aspect that never changed.

"I'll tell you what I liked about school," said 75-year-old Doug, "hometime."

- Waikato Times


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