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101 years old

101-year-old Masterton woman Una Hall-Webley with her card from Queen Elizabeth II and a photo of her younger self. PHOTO/ ERIN KAVANAGH-HALLUna with grandson Jonty at her 101st birthday celebration. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A full  life, well lived
Una celebrates a full, happy life

Una Hall-Webley is a skilled bowler, can power past the rest home staff with her walker and, up until very recently, was still making most of her own wardrobe.

After over 100 years on this planet, it’s safe to say Una doesn’t feel her age.

The long-time Masterton woman celebrated her 101st birthday on September 12, marking the auspicious occasion with a small family gathering, complete with chocolate cake, at her suite at Glenwood Masonic Hospital.

Unfortunately, Una’s 100th birthday last year passed with little fanfare, thanks to covid-19 restrictions, but she was thrilled with her card from the late Queen Elizabeth II, one of her “fashion inspirations”.

Una has spent most of her life in Wairarapa: A far from uneventful century, including a stint in the military, running two businesses, making clothes for mayoral candidates, raising four children, and a whirlwind romance in her twilight years.

To the community, Una was best known for her formidable skills with a sewing machine and as the face of the popular Hall’s Fabrics in Masterton.

To her children, she was a mum with an irrepressible energy and who always put others’ needs above her own.

And, as is clear from her cheeky demeanour, insistence on listening to the daily news on the radio, and active social calendar at the rest home, the years haven’t dulled her sharp mind and zest for life

“She’s incredible,” daughter Lorraine Hall said.

“She’s pretty on to it. Mind you, she always has been, we couldn’t get up to anything as kids without her finding out!

“I always remember Mum being on the move, running down the hallway to put the washing on, and get dinner out of the oven.

“She’s still got that energy. At Glenwood, she always makes sure to make it to her exercise classes three times a week and indoor bowls.”

“I’m a good bowler, very accurate,” Una chimed in.

“I’m 101, yes, but I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel any older.

“I’m not sure what my secret is. I would say eating plenty of vegetables.”

Valerie “Una” Jacobsen was born in Masterton in 1921 [several weeks premature and weighing “only about four and a half pounds”], the second of Valerie and Walter Jacobsen’s five children.

She spent most of her childhood living at Solway Showgrounds, where her father was a groundsman, and attended the old Whatman’s School and St Bride’s Convent, often arriving at school on horseback.

As a teen, she had a flourishing social life and has great memories of getting “all dressed up” and riding her bike into town for social balls.

Una with grandson Jonty at her 101st birthday celebration. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

When World War II broke out, Una enlisted for the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and worked in a factory repairing parachutes which had been damaged by engine fuel during combat.

A tough job but better than the alternative.

“My friend and I got letters from the government, they said we had to go to work and make bullets for the war,” she said.

“The cheek of them, asking girls to do something like that!

“I wasn’t going to do it, so I joined the air force instead.”

While in the air force, Una met and fell in love with Harry Hall [whose father, also named Harry, founded the former Masterton Amateur Theatrical Society], and the couple married in 1945.

A talented seamstress, Una made her own wedding dress, which she stealthily completed at work, her sewing machine concealed under a parachute.

“Terribly naughty of me!” she laughed.

She and Harry settled in Masterton and, after eight years of marriage, welcomed daughter Beverly, followed by Trevor, Kevin and Lorraine.

While raising their family, the couple owned and managed Hall’s Fabrics on Queen St, where Café Strada is now, with the children helping at the counter after school.

Before the war, Una had her own dressmaking business, and was known for her knack for upcycling,lining boys’ shorts with old flour bags and making christening gowns out of parachute silk.

“Mum made everything for us growing up, even pajamas and dressing gowns,” Lorraine said.

“She made and altered all her own clothes, including the dress she’s wearing now.

“She was still sewing into her nineties. It was only a couple of years ago that she had to stop, as her eyesight was deteriorating.”

At home, Lorraine said, Una was a loving wife and mother, who “always made sure to save the last cake or biscuit for us kids”.

She and Harry had “a long and happy marriage” until his death in 1997.

Some years later, Una met second husband Athol Webley through the Masterton RSA, and the couple lived together until he went into care in 2011.

“She was in her 80s when she met Athol and she was like a giggly school girl!” Lorraine said.

As a “life-long royalist”, Una was saddened to hear of the Queen’s passing, but is confident her successor, Charles III, will “do well”.

“It was sad, the Queen was very likeable.

“I always loved seeing what she was wearing on TV. She always had wonderful coat-dresses and hats. She was very stylish.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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