A Mel Xmas mural at Hokowhitu School in Palmerston North. Torongia ki te tihi o te maunga is the school’s vision – striving to get to the top of the mountain. Photo / Judith Lacy
Two years ago, Hokowhitu School received a handwritten letter from a former student who now lives in Australia.
The woman last visited Palmerston Noth in 1957 and was asking for information about the school’s centenary.
Principal Lin Dixon is happy to report preparations are well under way for the celebrations, which will be held on April 5-6, 2024.
She convened a committee three months ago of former staff and students, current staff, and parents of former students.
Dixon says it is an amazing team of people with some members having a long history with the school.
On the Friday afternoon there will be performances from the children and the classrooms will be open.
While much of the outside of the school has changed very little inside is very different with flexible learning spaces, Dixon says.
On the Saturday there will be speeches, the planting of a native tree, decade photos, a photographic display and a paper bag lunch. A dinner and dance will end the celebrations.
The school opened on February 5, 1924, with 208 children enrolled. The principal was Mr G K Hamilton and Muriel Shailer was the first student enrolled.
The Manawatū Standard reported the same day a bazaar was held to mark the opening. On sale were sweets, ice cream, soft drinks, produce and cakes.
There was a bran tub, a lucky dip in which the hidden items were buried in bran.
The next day’s Standard quoted Palmerston North MP James Nash expressing hope “success would attend all scholars who entered its portals”.
The Manawatū Times reported on February 7, 1924, the bazaar raised £51. Competitions included a baby show, best sponge cake and best kerosene tin.
In October 1929, the school closed early for the year due to an influenza epidemic. It also closed early in December 1936 due to infantile paralysis, now known as polio. The debilitating disease also forced a halt to lessons in April 1937 and November 1947.
In February 1931, refugees from the Napier earthquake poured into Palmerston North. Thirty-five children camped at the Awapuni Racecourse attended Hokowhitu School, its history records.
In May 1941 the school was flooded, with furniture, walls and floors covered with silt.
The swimming pool opened in 1931 and is still in use.
The school’s Albert St frontage with its sash windows and bell tower is a category 2 historic place.
Dixon has been the principal since July 2012. She has admired the school since her teacher training days when she used to cycle past on her way to classes.
Dixon used to ask herself if she might ever be lucky enough to teach in such a beautiful setting.
She says the school’s history will be the major inquiry for term one next year. By April, the children will be ready to ask centenary attendees questions about their time at the school.
The school currently has 375 students and is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity.
For more information about the centenary visit hokowhitu.school.nz or ring the school office on 06 357 9667.