Institute's social side always important

June Waters.
June Waters.

June Waters was "absolutely gobsmacked" by a phone call informing her she was getting a gold honours badge - the highest award a Women's Institute member can receive.

She will fly to Wellington in June to accept the honour following 59 years in the organisation, but she said the award recognised more than just longevity.

"It's not just the length of time, I've been president, secretary and treasurer at six different institutes."

Currently secretary for the Balclutha chapter, Mrs Waters has been a member of the Stirling, Milton, Clydevale, Romahapa and Paretai institutes.

"You're supposed to have a four year term on the committee, then stand down for one year, but in Milton I got landed as secretary for 12 years before it folded . . . mainly because if I hadn't done it, it would have folded earlier."

Mrs Waters first joined the Women's Institute at Stirling.

"Somebody rang and asked me to go. I thought it was a good opportunity to meet people and with each move I transferred to another institute and it's been the same thing, it lets you meet people."

Mrs Waters and her late husband Bruce lived on farms throughout South Otago and socialising along with helping in the community were the two main reasons for her long commitment to the institute.

However, she thinks the need for it has changed.

"When I first started, they ran classes for different activities like crochet but nowadays there are all sorts of specialist groups so the need is not the same." Despite some branches closing and others facing an aging membership, Mrs Waters believed the institute still had a role to play.

"It's hard to say if it will be around in 30 years but I'd like to see them stay, especially in a country area."

A rural institute differed from those based in towns because it was often one of the few activities in the district and so attracted women of all ages, she said.

The Balclutha chapter had about 25 members, with most of them over the age of 80 but Romahapa was still going strong with a lot of younger members, she added.

As for her gold honours badge, it was totally unexpected.

She was opening the mail when she saw an envelope with the national president's sticker on the back, she said.

"I thought why is she writing to us. I never suspected the letter would be just for me personally.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked."

South Otago Women's Institute president Shona Preddy said the award was well deserved.

"She's amazing. No matter what, June turns up to everything."

As Mrs Waters approaches her 84th birthday, she described every day as a bonus and her enthusiasm for the Women's Institute shows no signs of waning.

"I scooter along to the meetings at St John each month or get a ride from my neighbour."

And her nearly 60 years of meeting people at institute meetings paid off.

"I know people all around South Otago now . . . I just might not be able to name them."