Happily together

Last updated 05:00 18/11/2012

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Auspicious numbers marked Leo and Colleen Appo's 50th wedding anniversary, but this year's 10-11-12 digits were quite accidental.

November 10 is also Leo's birthday and he and Colleen never intended getting married on that day. But in 1962 the couple learnt there was a double booking at the Wesley Centre in Blenheim where they planned to marry on November 24, so they shifted their ceremony forward seven days.

Blenheim has nearly always been home for Colleen, nee Cresswell. She spent the first few years of her life near Lake Grassmere on a farm where her father Eddie Cresswell was sharemilking.

In 1949 the family moved to Springlands in Blenheim. The western suburb was still quite rural, she remembers, although the settlement was big enough to support a school. Her time as a pupil there was later followed by her and Leo's three daughters, then a granddaughter. A great-grand-daughter is likely to be a fourth-generation Springlands School pupil, she says.

Colleen's mother Ngaire (nee Foote from the Pelorus Sound area), lives at the Bethsaida Retirement Village in Blenheim, adding up to five generations of family members who gathered for the anniversary. With two children living in Australia and a third in the North Island, it has been about 20 years since the Appos were all together, Leo says.

He has Maori ancestral roots in Taranaki but says little family history was passed on beyond his grandfather, also named Leo Appo. He was a world champion axeman who settled in Australia after World War I.

Leo Jr, whose father, son and grandson are also named Leo Appo, grew up in Brisbane, then Wollongong, where he completed a plumbing apprenticeship. When he came to New Zealand, though, he got a job at a Wellington woollen mill where he met Colleen. After getting married he took her to Australia for a three-month holiday.

The planned three months turned into eight years.

The couple's three eldest children were born in Australia. The young family spent eight months in Papua New Guinea then they moved to a banana plantation at Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. When news came that Colleen's father was ill, they came back to Marlborough.

At first Leo worked for the Marlborough Borough Council as a plumbing inspector before setting up his own business. "But I always said I was going to retire when I was 50," he says.

So that's what he did and his first "free" weekend was spent with the fishing rod he had received as a retirement gift.

On Monday morning, though, the phone rang and it was hard to say "no" to the person on the other end calling out him to a job. Twenty-four years later, Leo still has not retired.

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He flashes his current plumbing, gas-fitting and drainlaying licence cards, but says he has become more selective about the job he accepts. "I don't crawl under houses any more," he laughs. "I get apprentices to do that."

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- The Marlborough Express

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