Proud Altrusans: From left, past presidents Kerrie Sproull and Kay Edwards, current president Ngaire Hayes and past presidents Julie Walker, Kate Dawson and Louise Houliston

For a service club with, normally, between 20 and 30 members, Queenstown’s Altrusa has probably contributed more per capita to the local community than any other organisation. On the eve of the women’s club celebrating its 40th anniversary, Philip Chandler looks into how it came into being and at what inspires its members

So many Queenstown groups, families and individuals should be grateful to a ‘‘vibrant’’ Timaru woman, Nonnie Palmer.

As South Island organiser for women’s service organisation, Altrusa International, she visited Queenstown in the early ’80s and invited various locals for coffee and a chat.

Among them was Julie Walker, who says ‘‘her slick sales pitch convinced the group of women from different walks of life and professions this was an amazing organisation to be come involved with, and a way to support our community’’.

According to Mountain Scene, the charter dinner was held on April 30, 1983, in the then-Hyatt Kingsgate hotel (now Copthorne Lakefront),
and the original club had 30 members.

Walker — the only charter member still active in the club — says ‘‘members have changed, but we’ve always had members who have the same drive, the same passion for the community, and wanting to give back to the community’’.

Being quite young at the time, and with young children, she notes ‘‘one of the beauties was having a whole group of women who didn’t talk about nappies and what your baby was doing’’.

A teacher then, and still now, Walker says in those days you were invited to join, ‘‘and you could only have a small percentage of anybody of the same profession’’ — now no longer a requirement.

Given her passion for reading, she enjoys the fact literacy’s been a major focus for Altrusa International, and the local club’s always given picture books to all local new-borns.

‘‘Originally we could go to the maternity hospital, hand over a book, have a chat and make a connection and offer our help and support in any other way, because so many new mums have no extended family here.

‘‘Times have changed and now it all has to be done through Plunket.’’

In the early days, Walker recalls them giving blown-up picture books to local primary schools.

After member Maureen McKinnel was tragically murdered in 1987, the club was part of a trust fund that distributed money to the community.

Though it no longer exists, it marked the start of Altrusa’s long-running fashion parades.

Two members’ recipe books were also good money-spinners, along with annual quizzes.

But nothing’s matched their annual golf tournament, which started in ’91 after the-then president Alison Bragg found another club ran one.

To date, the tournament’s raised almost $230,000 for a wide range of local causes.

‘‘Activities or fundraising aside, I think the most potent and special part of being a member is the friendship and fellowship which binds us to
gether,’’ Walker says.

‘‘Every member has had tragedies or celebrations, and the members have been there to support you.’’

When her son Mitchell passed away, ‘‘there they were in the hall helping with food and on the bar’’.

One past-president, Louise Houliston, even hand-makes birthday cards for members and other people the club wants to thank.

A two-time past president, Kay Edwards, who’s been involved for 28 years and has visited their one sister club Richardson, in Texas, in the
United States, says ‘‘I enjoy giving back to the community, really, because I feel it’s given a lot to me’’.

She, like current president Ngaire Hayes, would dearly love to see more younger members.

The latter, however, accepts people have busy lives these days.

‘‘It’s not until perhaps their children have left home they’ve got a bit more spare time on their hands.’’

Members, she points out, can be as active as they’re able to be.

Walker agrees it can be quite a time commitment helping out with street collections and other activities like Meals on Wheels or the recent blood collection.

‘‘I often have to say, ‘remember, I’m still working’.’’

While nowadays meetings are less formal, the workload’s huge, and ‘‘completed willingly, with respect and, most importantly, a great deal of fun’’.

Current and past members, called ‘friends of Altrusa’, are celebrating the 40th anniversary at the Queenstown Bowling Club on Wednesday.

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