By DAVID HILL
After 29 years at Waiau School, Mary Kimber is enjoying being able to shop whenever she wants.
The school principal was farewelled earlier this month and has retired to Blenheim, where she has moved into her own home for the first time after living in school-houses for most of her life.
“I’m very happy. I’ve had lots of fun in Waiau,” Ms Kimber says.
“All of my career has been in small, country schools and that’s why I’m so happy to be back in a bigger town, so I can go shopping when the specials are on.
“People don’t understand my excitement. In the midst of unpacking you realise you need some screws and it’s just three minutes down the road to the shops.”
She was born and bred in Christchurch, before training as a teacher and becoming a teaching-principal at age 26 at country schools in Otago and on the West Coast before moving to Waiau.
She says her highlights at Waiau including “all the lovely children I taught”, the school camps, getting to know the community and developing the school grounds.
“When I arrived it was burned to a tinder and there was barely a tree on the grounds. But now there’s some beautiful trees.”
Ms Kimber was also proud of maintaining a strong swimming programme until the November 2016 earthquake destroyed the school’s pool. She helped to set up the pool committee, with a new swimming pool set to open in the new year.
She says she will definitely be back to have a swim in the new pool.
“You can’t say that in the country, kids don’t get the same opportunities as town kids.”
She also helped to start up the Waiau Trail Ride, which will mark 20 years next year and has raised some considerable funds for the school over the years.
“The school is the hub of the community and I think that was shown at my farewell where 250 to 300 people turned up. That’s a lot of people and a lot of children who I have taught.
“And for the Mayor (Winton Dalley) to come along and speak, that was extra special.
“The earthquake showed it is about the community. In a small community everyone has to help each other, and they do.”
With more time on her hands, she is planning a big adventure next year to walk the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain as she contemplates a new chapter in her life.