A humble ‘unsung hero’

Retired Southland farmer Russell Heckler didn’t realise he was one of the star attractions at last Friday night’s Bayleys Arrowtown Art Exhibition.

Russell, 78, the Lakes District Museum board chair, was present for the exhibition’s prizegiving, judged and announced by artist David John.

But after the Bayleys Arrowtown premier painting award — a $3500 cash prize — was handed out to Cromwell’s Rachel Hirabayashi, Arrowtown Autumn Festival co-chair Nichola Bentley gave Russell the surprise of his life, presenting him with the 2024 ‘Unsung Hero’ award.

Bentley says Russell has community in his heart, particularly the Arrowtown community.

His association with the village started when he was a youngster, after his parents bought an old cottage in Nairn St in 1960.

He first met his now wife, Denise, nee Hunter, around that time — her parents had built a crib in Kent St in 1958.

When Russell went to Lincoln College, in 1967-’68, he met up with Denise again, ‘‘and the rest is history, really’’, with the pair marrying in 1970.

While farming, initially in Southland, then East Otago, the couple regularly holidayed in Arrowtown, first in the family crib before buying their first place at Thomson St.

The couple moved permanently to Arrowtown about 13 years ago, purchasing another house for their retirement — Bentley says
since then, there’ve been a ‘‘plethora of ways’’ he’s given back to the community.

‘‘He’s been a player, a president and a selector for the bowling club, and I believe he was recently seen on the barbecue for social bowls.

‘‘He’s a member of the curling club [and] he helps prepare the surface when the call comes.

‘‘He was instrumental in establishing and promoting the MenzShed here in Arrowtown, which, again, delivers back to the community with its time and its wonderful creations.’’

Known as Arrowtown’s ‘‘wasp man’’, Russell — whose day job is driving Arrowtown teens to Wakatipu High School — has also been on the museum board as a member since 2012, its chair since 2020, and a local Justice of the Peace.

‘‘He’s a man whose name brings a smile to everyone’s face, and everyone I spoke to … spoke so fondly and so thoughtfully about him,’’ Bentley says.

Russell says he’s humbled by the recognition.

‘‘I just feel anything we’ve ever done, really, we’ve just done to help Arrowtown be the real good place it is.’’

[email protected]

- Advertisement -