Makoura College celebrated 50 years of rich history with a reunion over Easter weekend. Over 300 students had registered to attend, including 15 foundation students from the school’s opening year in 1968, writes ELISA VORSTER.
There was a lot of excitement when Makoura College opened on February 6, 1968, with students travelling from outside of Masterton to attend the brand new school.
The school roll of about 140 students was made up of Form 3 students only, with the roll expanding to include all college ages in the years that followed.
The original uniform was teal, red and white, which foundation student Pam Berens (nee Marshall) said she wore “with great pride”.
“I loved the first uniform because it wasn’t the traditional uniform that Wairarapa College had at the time”.
Subjects included home economics [cooking and sewing] and commercial practice [shorthand and typing].
Mrs Berens was one of six students who lived in the Mikimiki area at the time and had to take two buses and a rotating car pool just to get to school each day.
One of the students, Diane Lucas, was a friend of hers who had lived next door from a young age and the pair had attended primary school together.
“There was no hanging around after school – God only knows how we would have gotten home if we missed a bus.”
She said some standout memories from the first year was the school camp to Akatarawa and the sinking of the Wahine.
“We were here at school at the time and the storm caused real issues on how we would get home.
“Wahine was really big stuff.”
The spelling of the school’s name changed from Makora to Makoura in December 1990 after 22 years of debate over which form of spelling was correct, due to the two words having different meanings.
‘Makora’ was deemed to bear no relevance to the school as it translated into ‘red billed gull’ or ‘scavenger’.
The spelling of Makoura was finally agreed upon and officially changed due to there being a nearby stream with the same name, as well as the spelling being the name of a breed of crayfish which was abundant in the stream.
The school motto was originally ‘Strive’ but later changed to ‘Kia manawanui’ in 2010, meaning courage and compassion.
In 2008 after a declining role and a difficult year for the school’s board, the school was headed towards closure.
Mrs Lucas’ daughter Nicky Lucas was a student of Makoura at the time and was instrumental in keeping the school open.
The 16-year-old was upset at the thought of uprooting to another school during her final year, so she decided something needed to be done to save the school.
With help from her friend Sophie Brenkley and a few others, they formed a petition which was presented to Parliament with over 7500 signatures in support of keeping the school open.
“It was exciting but also quite nerve racking as we weren’t sure as students if our voices would be heard,” Ms Lucas said.
She was surprised with just how much the community rallied and said John Hayes, the local MP at the time, provided “amazing support” and was the group’s voice in Parliament.
Ms Lucas also helped with getting former student Jemaine Clement’s Flight of the Conchords to perform a ‘Save Makoura’ show to raise funds.
“I was so proud – it was a feeling of self-achievement but I was also proud for the community and college.
“Since leaving Makoura I have been away and studied nursing and travelled the world and it’s great to come back and hear how amazing the school is doing now.”
Since then the school was awarded the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards in the ‘Excellence in Leading – Atakura Award’ category.
Sadly, the school’s first principal Noel Scott died just over a month ago, aged 88.
School librarian Clare Colville has been working at Makoura College for around 30 years and was a key component in archiving the school’s historical documents and piecing together photos and memorabilia for the reunion.
She started out at the school as a science technician and has been in the role of the librarian since 1993, where she has seen students of all different backgrounds come together and thrive.
Amongst her collection were items of the original school uniform, and filing cabinets filled with every article ever written about the school since it opened.
“The school is brilliant, I love it, and I love working with the students.
“It’s the way all different students relate and they’re all valued as individuals.
“They’re interactive and respect each other.”
Assistant principal Don Miller said he had never seen a reason to look for a job elsewhere during his 31 years of teaching at the school.
“There have been challenging times with the near closure but we have fought back from that, gradually increased the role and won the Prime Minister’s award,” he said.
He was looking forward to seeing all the ex-students, some of whom
had children currently attending the school.
Principal Paul Green said the 50th reunion was a recognition of all those who had been engaged with the school community over its half century of existence.
“I see it as a time when we reflect on our identity as a school community and obviously different people over the years will have different recollections and different experiences, but we look for common threads and they consistently emphasise the less traditional, more empathetic relationship-focussed approaches the school has become known for.
“I think there will be a lot of interest in seeing the site as it is now, as it has been substantially modified.
“To walk back onto the site for some people will be a deep-seated trip down memory lane.
“There will be corners, spaces and rooms, particularly the hall and sports fields, where key moments of life happened and have been etched on a person’s memory.”