By Ron Morgan.
Ken was the foundation Principal of Mercury Bay Area School, 1976-1986. He died earlier this month. He was appointed in 1976 prior to the school opening in 1977 when there were two sites - one where the Lost Spring is now (Primary age children), and the District High site (present location).
Ken worked tirelessly to prepare for the opening and acknowledged the valuable assistance of the previous Principal, John O’Sullivan and Franz Van Hoppe and the staff at the time. The summer holidays were fully committed with the Senior staff preparing for the first day.
Ken had collaborative leadership ability and worked with the Committee of Management to achieve the best possible outcomes for the school. The massive contribution of Harold Abrahamson, Keith Morcom and Joan Gaskell and many others are acknowledged by Ken in many of the reports he wrote for the school and community. “What a great committee it was and how much they achieved for the school- half an hour of aggressive ear bashing from Joan Gaskell and the most thick-skinned bureaucrat gave in. If necessary, we used the gentle persuasiveness of Keith Morcom to take over after Joan had softened them up (referring to deputation visits to the Education Board).”
One such task was selecting staff with six days spent in Hamilton with appointment meetings and interviews then finding accommodation for the 14 new teachers. There were over 200 applicants for the positions offered. Another major challenge for Ken was setting up bus runs with five school buses needed. There were often road closures and early departures due to flooding. He reported, “There was panic one evening when a parent rang to report that her five-year-old daughter had not come home. We discovered later that the child had hopped onto a school bus to go to her friend’s place to play. The problem was the missing child’s home was near Coroglen and her friend’s home was in Kuaotunu.”
Ken was not afraid to delegate responsibilities and he maintained a cohesive and happy staff not withstanding the many challenges they faced. There was initially little equipment and buildings. Two prefabs were lost en route to Whitianga - one on the Tairua Hill, the other on the Tairua bridge. “During a visit by the Minister of Education, to highlight the need for more classrooms, I had my class with their desks in a large tent. He was horrified and extra classrooms were dispatched soon after.”
The grounds were in no fit state for use, much to the despair of Ken. To spur some action after a deluge, a photo of rowing to school in a dinghy was staged which had immediate impact at the Education Board. The only facility for sport was one netball court- no gym, no pool, no fields, no hard court and no spare classroom for a Physical Education class when it was wet. With constant pressure from Ken, we did get the four netball courts with one doubling as a basketball court.
Ken and Anne took a full part in all community activities. Ken actually participated in several school productions taking a range of roles much to the delight of the audiences. He established many links with community clubs and groups. He also loved all sports especially Rugby supporting all our teams in a variety of codes.
With the decision to change to an Area School, there was trepidation from some that the younger pupils would get bullied when they were ultimately on the one site. Ken and the staff ensured that the converse occurred with the development of a real family atmosphere within the school. This I believe was a special feature with many lifetime friendships (and several marriages!) having being developed during his tenure.
One major concern was the community had raised finance and donated labour and services for a school pool at the old site. Ken and the Committee gained assurances that a new pool would be built. When the time came for the new pool, we stressed the need for six lanes and a 25 metre pool. The pricing for this size was way beyond the allocated finance for a pool (previous pool was 12 by 9 yards). A combination of Ken’s determination, several social visits by those responsible from the Education Board, seafood donations and a fishing trip saw permission granted for the pool we have today.
The School Hall was another project initiated during Ken’s tenure. He was active in many professional organizations at regional and national level representing Area Schools by advocating and striving for opportunities for rural students.
It is testimony to his contribution that numerous positive acknowledgements have been forthcoming from a wide range of sources.
Ken and Anne Rush were popular with all age groups and well respected. Many recent facebook comments from ex-students, ex-staff and from parents, reflect this respect and appreciation. They made time for family and friends. Many enjoyable memorable experiences which often featured the outdoor environment were shared together. They moved back to Palmerston North in 1986 where Ken was appointed Principal of Palmerston North Normal Intermediate School until his retirement.
His legacy will remain with us. Such a sad loss of an awesome, much-loved Principal and great person.
R.I. P. Ken
Caption: Principal Ken Rush (centre front row) with the staff of Mercury Bay Area School in 1977.