Joe La Grouw, the co-founder of Lockwood Homes and a leader in the national building industry, died last night in Rotorua after a short illness. He was 98.
Mr La Grouw and Johannes Van Loghem began their unique company in 1951, by importing prefabricated homes from the Netherlands when Dutch migrants brought in crates their own homes because of a building shortage.
As the importing business failed to prosper, the pair designed and built timber homes with interlocking joints which survived harshest conditions.
Lockwood gained international recognition when first the 1974 Darwin cyclone when many buildings were destroyed.
The company could feel slightly confident if not smug as in 1969 its houses passed an earthquake test with flying colours.
About 300 of the legendary interlocking, hard-glued homes were sold in 2003 to Iraq, with interest from the then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
In 1953, Lockwood homes were formed near Rotorua timber mills.
Lockwood created another first when it built a Maori meeting house at Ngongotaha in 1964.
The company was also chosen to represent New Zealand at the Expo pavilion, which was designed and constructed by Lockwood.
Architecturally pleasing and durability established, the model yielded spin-offs, but such flattery hardly dented the popularity of the Lockwood imprimatur.
In a rare public appearance in 2006, the opening of an exhibition acknowledging the building industry at Rotorua Museum, Mr La Grouw said: ''Looking back on history is a luxury very few of us had.''
Through his son, Joe La Grouw Jr, Mr La Grouw said he thought the exhibition marking 50 years of Lockwood wonderful, though he was lost for words.
Opening the 50-year tribute to Lockwood in 2006, the Prime Minister Helen Clark said: ''Lockwood has earned a special place in our history, for its design innovation and for the scale of its business.
''Over 50 years this company has boosted the local economy creating jobs, and creating opportunities for other businesses.
''It has contributed to New Zealand's economic growth, export earnings, and most importantly, provided that most essential product a decent home.''
Lockwood has spread its influence in philanthropy, with its annual Lockwood Aria enhancing the careers of many fine artists.
Mr La Grouw's son Joe and his wife, Joe-Ann, are noted benefactors to the Rotorua community.
Today in Rotorua, as a mark of respect, the Lockwood standard flew at half mast at the Lockwood Factory.
Mr LaGrouw is survived by a large, extended family.
- Rotorua Review