Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995

The concept of a home for the senior citizens of Waihi and district, where they could be cared for, goes back to 1969. During that year, throughout New Zealand, many people volunteered to become involved in discussion groups, sponsored by the churches, known as "Interview '69". Questions dealing mainly with the social needs of a community were prepared for discussion by a central office in Hamilton and were circulated. In the Waihi District about 200 people met in 15 - 20 private homes, at weekly intervals, at the completion of which a local central committee was formed to collate the information from each group.

Instigator of the idea of a home for elderly people in need of care was Mrs Moira Malone of Waihi. Many members of the "Interview 69" Committee were of a similar mind and, accordingly, Mrs Malone volunteered to convene a public meeting. This was held in the Memorial Hall on 11 September 1969, with the Mayor, Mr Albert Thomas as Chairman and the minute secretary, Marie Monks. Other social issues were raised at the meeting and a committee under the name of the Waihi Community Development Association was elected and a Goldfields Trust Fund for the Elderly was established with Joe Baker and Helen McCombie as trustees. Other members were Mrs Malone, Win McDermott and Les Graham and the fund was opened with donations of $20 from each of the committee members.

Students from Waikato University and trained volunteers, under the umbrella of the Development Committee, carried out a survey throughout Waihi, Waihi Beach and Whangamata to determine all aspects of community needs (eg. employment, housing, transport, medical) and the results were collated by Carl Gordon, a teacher at Waihi Intermediate School. It was found that 20% of the population in Waihi was over 60 years of age and, with the national average at 12%, a home for the elderly was revealed as the most pressing need.

On 3 March 1971 a meeting, convened by Mrs Malone, was held in the Presbyterian Hall and a sub-committee of the Waihi Development Association was formed, it's brief being to promote housing for the elderly and to report to the Association by June 1971. Accordingly, a meeting, chaired by Don Adams, was held on 24 June 1971 and a Steering Committee, with Mr Adams as chairman and Mrs Malone as secretary, was established to investigate the building of a Senior Citizen's Home. Its member representatives came from all of the churches, service clubs and women's organisations as well as ex-officio members from the Health and Police Departments, the Thames Hospital Board and the Ohinemuri County.

After looking at similar homes in other towns, the Committee accepted the design of Peria House in Opotiki as being the most suitable for the residents of Waihi. Later that year an acre of land was purchased from the Thames Hospital Board, Government subsidies were applied for, plans approved for a 16-bed home (later changed to 20) and an architect engaged.

Fund raising had begun in earnest. It was this fund raising that gave birth to the now annual Waihi Summer Festivals, initially called the Festival of Flowers, the first of which was held in January 1971. The Festival has grown in strength and popularity over the years and has donated thousands of dollars towards the welfare of the Home.

On 14 March 1972 the Senior Citizens Home became an Incorporated Society, following which Ashley Tubman became secretary/treasurer and remains so to this day. Foundation Chairman was Don Adams, with Selwyn Baker as Deputy and Moira Malone, Helen McCombie and Tony Dillimore as Committee.

The target of $24,000 was reached early in 1975 and the Government, after taking into account the local input (averaging $3 per head of the population) and enthusiasm, and being convinced of the need for such a home, granted $12,000 per bedroom from the Health Department. The architect, Mr Allan MacDonald of Hamilton called tenders and a contract was signed in November 1975 with Beazley Homes Ltd., construction commencing in January 1976.

As the Home neared completion, the naming of it came up for public discussion. The first response came from Jack Deam, a long-serving ambulance officer, and he was forthright in declaring that the name should honour Dr Rex Hetherington, who had been in practice in Waihi for 43 years. (See Journal No. 28, September 1984) [see Journal 28: Dr L R Hetherington OBE - E]. Without hesitation the management committee agreed with his suggestion, and Hetherington House soon became a household name within the District.

The first residents moved in on 5 July 1977 and all 20 rooms were occupied with many more names on a waiting list at the time of the official opening on 19 November 1977.

The Dedication Ceremony was carried out by the Vicar of St John's Anglican Church, the Rev. Howard Leigh and a plaque was unveiled in the foyer by the Hon. H J Walker, Minister of Social Welfare. In addressing the large gathering he reminded the community that their involvement did not end with the completion of the buildings but, as well as skilled staff, there needed to be a continuing fund of goodwill from the community. Speeches were also made by the Mayor of Waihi, Owen Morgan and the Chairman of the Hetherington House Committee, Don Adams who extended a special welcome to Dr and Mrs Hetherington, who had travelled from Taupo.

Since the opening, the goodwill of the community has continued in many tangible ways, fund raising, outings and entertainment, plus the provision of vegetables, eggs, etc. The grounds and gardens have always been kept in immaculate condition by volunteers. For many years a Residents' Welfare Committee, organised by Helen McCombie, has raised funds for additional comforts and outings. The committee has the use of the Hospital's community van, having contributed $2500 towards it's cost.

In 1977, the idea of building own-your-own flats under the control of Hetherington House, was first mooted as another service to the community. In due course five units were built in Station Road and were soon occupied, on the understanding that if they were vacated, they must be sold back to the Hetherington House committee for re-sale.

As time passed it was a concern that the waiting list kept increasing and in 1983 a sub-committee comprising Claude Dennis, Tony Dillimore and Helen McCombie was commissioned to discuss ways and means of raising money to add a wing of another 12 rooms. A contract for this work was eventually finalised in April 1987.

In 1988 Don Adams stood down as Chairman and he was succeeded by Neil Fergus, with Noel Lind as deputy.

By 1992 there was a staff of 23. Hetherington House has become a significant employer in Waihi, and, with all its needs being supplied locally, the general economy of the District benefits as well. There were 34 permanent residents, plus 2 rooms available for short stays. On-going improvements have included a garage and workshop, plus extensions to various service areas.

To mark the first fifteen years since the opening of Hetherington House, a commemorative booklet entitled "Hetherington House - The Development Years 1969 - 1992" was produced. The booklet puts on record the story of the beginning of the Waihi Senior Citizen's Home Society and is a tribute to those who saw a need for a home for senior citizens, and then set about attaining it.