Eketahuna’s Charlie Death, left, his wife Rena Tyler and Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis at the presentation of his Tararua District Civic Honour for Voluntary Service. PHOTO/CHRISTINE McKAY

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

After 30 years giving his time to the Tararua District, Eketahuna dairy farmer Charlie Death has become the town’s second resident to be awarded the Tararua District Civic Honour for Voluntary Service.

In a ceremony last Saturday at the Nireaha Hall, where Death performed in plays as a student, family, friends, colleagues, local MPs and like-minded community members gathered for what Death said was a great but emotional event.

“I have to admit my knees were rattling and tears coming down my face,” he said.

In the award citation Death, the Eketahuna Community Board chairman, was described as willing to serve the community through his “community spirit and tireless energy” directed to supporting projects and organisations in his hometown and district.

“It’s not a five-minute job, I can assure you. You have got to have many hats on for many different things,” he said.

Death said the only other recipient of the award in the past 30 years from the town, was a former Eketahuna Community Board chairman, Max Cooper

“That’s something to be proud of.”

Looking back, even he was amazed at how many events and projects he had been involved in over the decades.

But he does have a couple of special memories that he said made all the hard work worth it.

Right up there is the community’s effort to rebuild Eketahuna’s petrol station after it burned down in 2001.

In just two days, the community had raised $175,000 – “it was absolutely awesome”.

“Working with the staff of the council over the years, I’ve really appreciated how we have worked together to achieve so much.

“I know that’s a basic thing to say, but it’s true.”

Death was also very proud of the town’s Main St upgrade.

While most thanks needed to go to fellow-community board member Sharon Shannon and Tararua District Mayor Tracy Collis, Death said he was behind it all the way.

Collis described Death as a “local legend”.

“He is Eketahuna’s biggest champion.

“No matter where he is, local or internationally, he is promoting Eketahuna.”

She paid tribute to the length of Death’s service to the community.

“The wonderful thing is that the nomination comes from the community.”

Collis said Death had a role in most of what happened around the town, whether leading it or providing support in the background.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Death.

In 1987, he almost died after he was accidentally shot while deer hunting in the Tararua Ranges.

The bullet went through his right arm and into his hip.

“That’s the making of you really isn’t it?” he said.

Death and his wife of nearly 30 years, Rena Tyler, live on a dairy farm near Eketahuna.

He was born in Wellington but moved to Nireaha at a young age and has always loved it there.

Four generations of his family went through Nireaha School.

Death has five children and eight grandchildren.

Dairy farming has been a big part of the family’s lives, with plenty of time spent in the milking shed.

“Like 9/11, when that happened, we were in the cow shed, and Princess Di, when it came through about her dying, we were in the shed,” he said.

Death said he would not have received the award without the support from his wife.

“I appreciate working with Rena, we have our hearts in the right place for Eketahuna, and the Tararua district.”

Death has dedicated hundreds hours of his time to helping his community.

He has been a St John’s health shuttle driver since 2008, travelling hundreds of kilometres each month to health clinics and hospitals outside the town.

Once he did four trips to Palmerston North in one day – “I got home and I was buggered.”

He has been a member of the Eketahuna Club for 25 years, including a stint as president, a past chairman of the Nireaha School PTA, and he is also a member of the Nireaha Reserve Board.

He’s been the community board chairman since 2010 and a member since 1998.

Death was instrumental in establishing the Eketahuna Civil Defence Response Group in 2013 and helped create the first response group plan.

He’s also played a key role in securing two pre-season Super Rugby games at the Eketahuna Rugby Grounds.

Death spends the silly season as Santa helping out the Pahiatua Railcar Society that puts on some of Tararua’s Christmas parades.

“It’s just another thing you do for people, and if you put a smile on their face that’s cool bananas.”

Death also offered many hours of support to the Eketahuna/Mellemskov Museum makeover in 2017.

“It’s just good fun,” he said.