College pool a memorial to Stephen Hillas
Stephen Hillas: 17 October 1949 – 29 June 1961
By Shelly Warwick: POSTED 12 MAY 2016
Did you know that our Otaki College pool is in fact the Stephen Hillas Memorial Pool?
Stephen Hillas lived in Ringawhati Road on The Plateau in Otaki with his mum and dad, Ngaire and Russell, and his two sisters.
In the early 1960s, Stephen attended Otaki Primary School with his younger sister, Leonie. His older sister, Jennifer, attended the newly opened Otaki College.
Stephen loved farming, rugby and swimming. He was a member of the Otaki Surf Life Saving Club, and at the time Otaki had no public swimming pool. The surf club kids would train in Levin.
Local bus driver Jack Ballinger, owner of the Sunbeam Motor Service bus company at Otaki Beach, donated his bus and his time once a week to drive the kids to Levin for their swimming lessons.
Tragically, on 29 June 1961, Stephen died at the age of 12 in a farming accident on the family farm.
In memory of their son, Stephen's parents in 1964 donated to Otaki College a new 25m swimming pool so that all the kids in Otaki could learn to swim and enjoy it as much as Stephen had. At the time, and with good foresight, Russell fought to have the pool length in metres, not in feet, as metric measure was about to be introduced.
Ngaire, who still lives in the foothills of Otaki, said it was important for her and Russell to provide a place for kids to learn to swim. At the time there was no Haruatai Pool in Otaki, and in the time between the construction of the college pool and the community-funded construction of Haruatai Pool, the surf club kids used the Otaki College pool for training.
One of Stephen's best mates, Harold Fulford, was the first kid to get to jump in the Otaki College pool after its completion.
In fitting with its purpose as a memorial to Stephen, the college pool has indeed provided a place for kids to learn to swim, learn water safety, learn canoe skills, and has provided leisure and enjoyment to many hundreds of Otaki children.
The Hillas family deserves the thanks of the college and the community for their generosity in providing the college with a wonderful asset in a time of extreme grief for themselves.
I'm sure Stephen would have loved the pool himself, had he been able to enjoy it.
(Information sourced from Ngaire Hillas, Stephen's mum)