Halls of fame

Roto-o-Rangi Memorial Hall is one of 34 town halls and community centres throughout Waipā. This article is the first in our series, where we will look at the district’s halls, their stories and people.

When you first approach Roto-o-Rangi Memorial Hall, two large, off-green doors will greet you, and then confuse you. You ponder how they could grant you passage into the timeless hall, as they are without a handle or any hint of an opening mechanism.

Your eyes scout around as you try to find another way to enter, and then an elusive child-sized door of an equally off-green hue chastises you for not spotting it earlier. Its tiny silver keyhole and handle safeguard your entrance.

The hall, 10kms southwest of Cambridge and 16kms east of Te Awamutu, was the rendezvous for community meetings, dances, dinners, clubs, church groups, and celebrations. Constructed in 1938 it cost a staggering £489, with the money raised by a local committee fundraiser.

Some of its more notable groups were the Ping Pong and Indoor Bowls clubs. Champion bowlers are still celebrated on the walls of the hall today. Roto-o-Rangi School held its centennial celebrations there in 2004, and it was their main event hall for many years – before they opened their current multipurpose room.

To quote the hall’s secretary, Carmel Howarth, it has “a hell of a lot of history.”

Long-time locals serve on the hall committee. Nick Dawson is chair, Jim Gregan, currently a committee member, was the previous chair before he stood down in 2012. Will Forsythe is the hall’s treasurer and Carmel is its secretary.

She celebrated her wedding reception in the hall in 1992 and started a dance class there in the same year. Her three daughters, Rhiannon, Nikita, and Astrid all attended Roto-o-Rangi School, which is just across the road from the hall. In 1993, Carmel was asked to attend the hall’s annual meeting and joined its committee shortly after.

Julie Epps is another long-time local deeply involved in the Cambridge community and has fond memories of the hall. She used to attend the dance school and her boys, Matthew and Braedon attended Roto-o-Rangi School as well.

“The talent quest karaoke night for the adults was an eye-opener, with lots of dressed-up ‘celebrities’ belting out songs and a very believable Mr Bean lookalike as one of the judges,” she recalled.

Carmel Howarth

Carmel also recounted one of the hall’s New Year’s Eve parties, where she and her husband Steve dressed up as Cyndi Lauper and Peter Garrett, shaven head and all.

“We have had some real cracking dos down here,” she said.

According to Carmel, the hall does not see the same variety of events as it used to, but it is still regularly used.

Presently, the dance school still uses the hall for its examinations, but its classes are now taught at Cambridge High School. Rowers stay at the hall during rowing season.  The Roto-o-Rangi school uses it for its end-of-year ceremonies. Weddings and birthdays are regularly booked. And until recently, a church group attended the hall every weekend.

Carmel and her husband Steve own a maintenance business and have cared for the hall for over 20 years. Before Christmas, she spent five days tending to the hall and its gardens and Steve recently replaced spouting and repainted parts of the building’s exterior.

They are constantly thinking of what to work on next. Currently, a shower is on the agenda, so that the hall can be more versatile. As well as removing barbed wire from a neighbouring paddock, more gardening, and more painting.

The hall is not funded through rates though, it is funded by community donations, which the committee asks for in the form of an annual levy. Carmel says that more community support would allow the committee to better care for the hall. Last month, thieves stole spouting in the hopes of finding copper, exacerbating the need for an increase in community support.

“It is a very cool hall, I just hope that it is here a long time and people look after it,” she said.

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