A lifetime of serving Waimate
Very soon, Bill and Jan Penno will leave their Waihao farm to forge a new life on the outskirts of Christchurch.
The journey up State Highway 1 is one Bill has travelled many times. He spoke to Claire Allison about community involvement and regional councils.
Bill Penno pulls out his 2005 diary.
There's hardly a blank page. Each day is crammed with details of meetings and appointments.
He shakes his head, and wonders how he did it.
This year's diary is much more manageable. There are still meetings, but not nearly so many. The car isn't clocking up quite so many kilometres.
But there's one big trip still to come. That's when Bill and Jan Penno leave the district that Bill has lived in all his life and has been Jan's home since she married him in 1965.
"It's difficult to extricate yourself from the area where you have been brought up, lived, worked, and worked hard for. We have always had our roots in Waimate.
"I said to the mayor, we will be Waimate's ambassadors further north. In these days of centralisation and amalgamation, it's often the outlying areas that don't get their full representation - their voice isn't heard. Whenever there's an amalgamation, there needs to be an extra effort, or expenditure on the outside edges of an organisation, particularly in terms of communication. Otherwise, decisions get made in the centre, because it's easy but, per head of population, more effort needs to be made for the outlying areas."
The couple are moving to Prebbleton. It's going to be a wrench, but it will bring them closer to some of their big family. It might also be that moving away is really the only way Bill will cut ties to the many organisations in the Waimate district he's served for so long.
Young grandchildren asking Jan where Granddad was weren't surprised to be told he was at a meeting. Bill's certainly attended his fair share in his lifetime.
William Penno was born in 1937, making his entry in Waimate's nursing home; now home to the town's older residents, rather than new arrivals, as Lister Home.
His parents were mixed cropping farmers, just as Bill and Jan have been, although in more recent years the couple have diversified into dairy support. The 155-hectare farm is now leased.
Bill went to Morven School and Waimate High School, leaving after his School Certificate year to work on the farm. He met Jan through their mutual involvement in Youth For Christ. She had grown up in Peel Forest, and was completing her nursing training at Timaru Hospital.
The top student in New Zealand when she sat her finals exam in 1963 and with a bright future ahead of her, and working as a midwife at Jean Todd when they married, Jan says matron probably wasn't too impressed when Bill whisked her away to be a farmer's wife.
The couple raised two sons and two daughters on the farm. Like their father, all went to Morven Primary and Waimate High. All have grown up and made their own way in the world, and between them have provided Bill and Jan with 13 grandchildren to enjoy.
"A lot of people our age have got grown-up grandchildren, whereas ours are aged from 15 to 2 years old."
Bill's life may have revolved around family and farm, if it wasn't for a Young Farmers Club exchange to the United States in 1964/65. He credits his involvement with Young Farmers for his decades in local government.
"Really, I suppose, it started off, I had a heavy involvement with Young Farmers. For me, my Young Farmers Club experience was my university training."
From being the new boy who "was there a year before I opened my mouth", Bill learned the skills of public speaking and meeting procedure, and rapidly rose through the ranks of the organisation, holding almost every office right through to national - or at the time, Dominion - level, and serving as Dominion president in 1968/69.
He made the two-week journey to the United States on the ship Canberra in 1964, staying on farms in North Dakota, speaking to various groups, then heading to Britain on the Queen Mary, then home via the capitals of Europe, India, Nepal and Thailand.
Visiting India was a conscious choice. "I thought I'd been in what was probably the wealthiest country in the world, so I needed to go to the opposite, the poorer.
"That was the experience that propelled me to wanting to do more, and do as much as I could for other people."
In the background, too, was his involvement with the church, a Christian ethic of "doing for others more than himself".
Bill's never belonged to Rotary - he's not really had the time - but he likes their motto: Service before self.
He was lucky to have Jan's unfailing support.
"My poor wife got plunged into an entirely different life. We were extremely, extremely busy. From that time on, I was heavily involved in community work. It was the heyday of Young Farmers, there were still Country Girls clubs for women, and we started the Young Farmer of the Year competition.
"So then, when I finished my stint as Dominion president, there was still a desire to become involved in things. So that's when I moved on to local body involvement."
The time commitments over the years have seen some interests left behind; playing sport, being involved in singing and musicals. He's a yachtsman too, owning a trailer-sailer that might perhaps still get an occasional outing.
Bill's elected positions have been mostly local ones, but for a foray into national politics in 1978, standing for the National Party in Timaru against Sir Basil Arthur. The family lived in the town for six months while he campaigned. The outcome of that election decided, Bill pulled out of national politics, in order to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with local positions. He took the same view over his involvement with Federated Farmers.
"And part of it was time ... I just physically couldn't do it."
Bill cut his local government teeth on six years as one of Waimate's representatives on the Oamaru Harbour Board, at the time the board was coming to the end of its life, with coastal shipping becoming redundant.
"It was about the only board to extinguish itself. We weren't kicking and screaming. I went on all fresh and new, and was made chairman of the shopping committee ... and from then on, no further ships came in."
He served on the Waimate Hospital Committee too but, when those two roles came to an end, he had to decide whether he'd carry on with that kind of work.
"My father had been on the South Canterbury Catchment Board; he was involved with that for three terms. He retired from that, so then they asked me if I would go on. I'd finished with the Oamaru port then, and wasn't carrying on with the hospital committee. I thought about it quite hard at the time. I guess through my hospital work, I realised that the community is comprised of people - it was very people-oriented, and I thought that the catchment board wouldn't be so people-oriented.
"We might have been dealing with water and land conservation issues, but of course they did involve people; we were dealing with people and people's lives."
He served on the catchment board for several terms - the last two as chairman - until it made way for the introduction of regional councils in 1989.
Bill, along with many other catchment board members from around the newly formed Canterbury region, stood for election. There were a lot of candidates for just a few seats, and some egos were bruised.
Elected as the Waitaki candidate, it was to begin a 15-year involvement with Environment Canterbury - then known as the Canterbury Regional Council. One of the most farflung seats in the Canterbury region, it meant he spent a lot of time in the car.
The Pennos reckon Bill travelled a million kilometres in those 15 years. It was common for him to drive to Christchurch in the morning for a meeting, return home, attend a meeting in, say, Fairlie that evening, and then travel to Christchurch again the next morning.
"Physically, the hours I was working at that time were huge. Conservatively, working 80 hours a week, not taking into account a lot of the travelling time. So that was council 40 hours per week, and the farm 40 hours. On top of that were phone calls, and keeping up to date with reports before meetings. It all took time."
Without a cellphone in the early days, he struggled to find time to contact his constituents.
"I'd often be at meetings when it would be a good time to get hold of people, or I'd be on the road. Sometimes I'd stop in Ashburton to make some calls. And by the time I got home at night, it was too late to ring people ... 9.30pm was my cut-off. Then, when we got cellphones, and before it was illegal, I'd be on the cellphone all the way up to Christchurch. Jan would take a lot of phone calls, and she'd be extremely busy on the farm."
Bill stood down in 2004, along with fellow long-timer and council chairman Richard Johnson, and two other serving councillors.
"So there was quite a big change around, they elected a new chairman, and things started going downhill from there.
"The council ran into some difficulties around the council table, and that was quite sad for me. It meant people had to take strong positions that weren't helpful, and inevitably the Government stopped in."
Bill says he thought the best solution would have been to appoint some Government members to work alongside elected members, but now believes the process in place is a good one.
"In hindsight, it has been working quite well with the commissioners. They've been doing a good job working away at their task, but it must get back to having local representation, even if it still has some appointed members working alongside them."
One of the positives Bill sees is that the commissioners are working to a deadline.
"I always said, there's nothing wrong with planning, but you need identifiable outcomes within an achievable timeframe.
"I was always concerned that planning took too long. We wanted to put out a plan, a good strong document. But it became apparent it would have been better to have had a document out there and operating, and then through the review processes fix it up.
"There were too many steps. We'd put out an issues and options document, a first draft, a final draft, then things would be altered ... by that time, the years would roll on, and by the time the final document came around, you'd be dealing with a whole different set of people."
"We were trying to get it right, but the process took too long, there were so many people involved."
A growing awareness of environmental issues, and better understanding of the pressure some catchment areas were under, also slowed progress.
But Bill has no regrets about those 15 years, and still believes there is a need for regional authorities.
"Districts didn't like a body that came over the top of the district functions in terms of planning, but an overview for things like civil defence, transport, water, was necessary. There was always that bit of tension there, but there was support as well. I had very few phone calls in my tenure that were antagonistic. But there were a lot of people who would come and talk to me about all the good work that was being done by the regional council.
"Yes, there is a role for regional authorities, and I believe they should be kept apart. It's much easier, if there's to be a hard line taken, for another authority, other than a district council, to take that action.
"It was extremely hard work, very demanding, but it brought me into contact with a lot of people throughout the region, and hopefully people in the Christchurch community understand more clearly the importance of the rural situation."
He believes many of the bold decisions made by early councillors have turned out to be pretty right. He can see some of the things he was involved in working well, and says the community involvement throughout that time has been a big part of that success.
"Some of the regional councils that weren't quite so strong in those early years have since run into troubles.
"But, as in all politics, you are not always flavour of the month, and you can be around too long, and that's one of the reasons I stopped. And I'm going through that process at the moment. I'm involved with a lot of organisations here, and it's good for the organisations to just change over."
That philosophy's to the fore at the moment. The move north means Bill is cutting ties to organisations he has served for decades; Waimate's Total Mobility scheme (20 years as chairman), Senior Citizens - he's been chairman for 40 years - the Lower Waitaki River Management Society, the Waitaki Lakes and Rivers Committee. Both he and Jan have been involved with the local church, the Waihao co-operating parish, in youth and church leadership. Bill is a locally-ordained minister; he became involved at Presbytery level, and was moderator for the South Canterbury Presbytery for a time.
"There's been a large amount of personal time involved, at the expense of family and farm, but that's just the way the community works."
That time was acknowledged in 2005 with a Queen's Service Order for services to community and local government, and about three years ago by Rotary, which made him a Paul Harris Fellow, the service club's highest honour.
He wonders about the future of voluntary work and community service.
"There's a huge amount of work done in every sphere, in districts and communities, by volunteers. I've always been amazed at the huge amount of volunteer work that goes on . . . And I'm not sure whether, in the future, that's going to carry on. People are still working, bringing up families, there's not that team of volunteers going through. That's something that not just Waimate has to grapple with, it's every community, it's churches, it's everything."
"A lot of people don't do anything unless they are remunerated for it today. It's more of a philosophical thing that's occurred over time in people's thinking."
Bill's been spending some time thinking about what he's going to miss most when the couple move. His list includes the smells of ploughed ground and curing hay, the rite of marking twin lambs on the first lambing beat of the day, and of thrashing crops of wheat.
But, there will be bonuses. The chair he's likely to be sitting in most won't require any knowledge of meeting procedure, but be more suitable for dropping off to sleep in front of the television.
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