Posted on Jul 28, 2018
Our Guest Speaker was John Wilson (with assistance from Wally Sutherland) who spoke about his 64 years in Rotary and life in Whakatane as it was then and is now.   
John was introduced by Jude who said that it was a great privilege to introduce John especially as he had been in Rotary for 64 years, which is longer than she has been alive… 
John started his working life as an optometrist in Hamilton.  He did a lot of work visiting Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, and he would spend two days in Whakatane and Opotoki in premises that are no longer there. 
John started up a partnership with a fellow optometrist from Rotorua in the Central Building - facing the seaward side of Whakatane.  A lot of the transport was coming by sea in and out.  What is so different now compared to back then, is that the sea used to come past the Rock.  There has been a lot of reclamation of land over the years.  There used to be a lot of dinghies that were tied to the end of the house properties.      
John and Wally both came to Whakatane at about the same time and lived as bachelors in a boarding house with other residents until John got married in 1954 and Wally later on.  John bought his first home on Landing Rd for £3500.  Both the town and Kawerau progressed due to the Mill.  Tasman, Matahina Dam, and the Dairy Co – it was all growth back then.  Tasman had employed 2000 and Whakatane Board Mills had 850.   Whakatane was first to have an airport before Rotorua and Tauranga and it was built on sand.  The Chamber of Commerce got the airport going.  Wally says there was a little airport in Kawerau and you flew into Tauranga with the sheep dispersing and then flew on to Auckland.  John and Wally both reminisced about the growth in the town and how they enjoyed it.   
At John's first meeting at Rotary, he took on duties on the Board and was secretary for several Presidents over the years.  Most members were returned soldiers at first.  John was involved with the start-up of both the Kawerau and Opotiki Rotary Clubs and always attends the Changeovers when he can.  Wally joined Rotary a few years after John.  John says the merger of the two clubs is a great idea and when they split the Club originally to West they had 80 members.   
Regarding Rotary projects, their biggest project was the swimming pool.  Another project was the fountain at the roundabout opposite to where the Whakatane Info centre is.  Children used to play in the fountain and when it was removed the blades went to Maurice Butler's residence.  John spoke about the Taveuni project and spent some time on the way back from England with his wife visiting Taveuni [I’m not sure if this is the correct spelling].     
Jude kindly thanked John and Wally.  She said that it is a privilege to have them both at our meetings and she was fascinated by their knowledge and we can all agree that the town has changed over the years.  
Thank you, John and Wally, for sharing your experiences with us and for your contributions to Rotary over the years.