Playing for 50 years

Founding Pirongia Playcentre committee chair Barbara Walter, left, and building project convenor Marilyn Yeates look over the centre’s history.

Marilyn Yeates remembers it clearly.

It was July 1977 and part of the original Pirongia School became redundant for school purposes.

So, a community meeting of about 60 people was held to discuss repurposing the buildings for Pirongia Playcentre.

Marilyn – who had had an association almost since it began life in 1973 because one of her children attended – was there.

Pirongia Playcentre had been gathering in Pirongia Memorial Hall, but seeking to preserve the school building – a key part Pirongia’s cultural heritage – a committee including founding chair Barbara Walter was formed to investigate moving it to a new home.

Marilyn became building project convenor, land on Franklin St was made available by the then Waipā County Council and ultimately the “western room” of the school, built in 1904, and a “little room”, which had been between two other school rooms, were moved there.

That “little room” was the only original part of the Pirongia School built in 1878.

Three generations of the McMonagle family, Caroline, left, Kelly and two-year-old Ryan McCormack cut the 50th anniversary cake.

A newspaper report said it had cost about $9000 to shift them – $5600 funded by the Waikato Playcentre association, $3700 by the Pirongia community.

On Saturday Marilyn and Barbara were there as Pirongia Playcentre celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“How special is this, it’s a sort of full circle moment?” Marilyn – now a long-standing Pirongia Heritage and Information Centre manager – said.

Also present were past Pirongia Playcentre preschoolers who recalled “special memories” of edible playdough, a characteristic tree in the backyard and an underpinning sense of community.

Among several families representing three generations of involvement with the centre were mother and daughter Caroline and Kelly McMonagle and Kelly’s son, two-year-old Ryan.

The trio were called on to cut Saturday’s celebratory cake, and afterwards Caroline and Kelly told The News of their love of the playcentre community.

Caroline had a nearly 20-year association from 1991, when Kelly was a preschooler there, then as a teacher and helper through until 2011.

Ryan is a preschooler at the centre – the “special chapter” that was Kelly’s time there prompted her to want the same for her son.

“I have fantastic memories of this place,” Kelly said, “…and I love that he gets to have those same experiences.”

It’s quite impressive really,” Caroline said of Saturday’s celebrations.

Sisters Emma Hodge, left, Marcia Flay and Reanna Peterson all attended Pirongia Playcentre.

Sisters Marcia Flay, Emma Hodge and Reanna Peterson, who collectively attended the playcentre between 1983 and 1990, were also there on

“It’s such a valuable asset for Pirongia even all these years later,” Emma said.

Renee Coutts, part of Pirongia Playcentre’s present day leadership team and involved with the centre for four years, said it has always been a community-driven initiative organised by parents, with parents as teachers.

“That philosophy remains today,” she said.

“We just thank all those who have gone before us for persevering to make Playcentre happen, and then keeping it going all these years.

“They no doubt faced challenges along the way, just as we do today, but pulling together as a community and whānau to overcome makes us who we are. We will continue to hold that true in the future.”

A commemorative mural was commissioned to mark Saturday’s occasion.

Parent Janie Neal spent two weeks designing and drawing it as, “a family tree of sorts”, Renee said.

“The design centres around our play, learn and grow together philosophy at Playcentre as well as embracing our flora, fauna and our maunga.”

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