by Helen Martin
In Kaukapakapa and Helensville Ralph Martin is well known as an energetic volunteer and community activist. He’s turning 72 in November but shows no signs of slowing down - his fitness activities include walks up Pinchgut Road and tramping with the North Shore Tramping Club, where he’s the membership secretary (he recently walked with them from Mercer to Rangiriri). Not long ago he tramped in the Swiss and Austrian mountains and he travels overseas regularly with his partner Val -they’ve just been to Japan, Alaska and Vancouver and are next going to India.
Ralph has always been active. He and his four brothers grew up on a small dairy farm in Te Kopuru, just south of Dargaville and, because their father was badly injured in Crete during World War II, they all had to pitch in and help, quickly becoming accustomed to hard work. As well as doing farm chores, from the age of 14 Ralph worked on sheep and cattle farms in the district.
When he left school, he went to Auckland to take up a High Voltage Electrical Engineering apprenticeship, then completed a Diploma in Electrical Engineering, married Susan and did a brief stint at university. Impatient with the theory – Ralph liked the practical side of the work - he found a job working for the NZ Electricity Department. It was the first in a long career from 14 which took him quickly from hands-on to management. Having spent 46 years in the business there’s not much he doesn’t know about the ins and outs of such things as power stations and sub stations, transformers and transmission lines, cellphone tower installation, pylon installation, seismic proofing, high voltage upgrading and maintenance. From overseeing apprentices to managing budgets to writing reports for the government, Ralph’s work was always varied and absorbing and carried with it a lot of responsibility.
His first community involvement, beginning when he was 20, was with the Jaycees, an organisation that in its heyday did great work with young people, training them in leadership roles (including running meetings and public speaking) and getting them involved in helping run events like Top Town, a travelling TV game show where teams representing New Zealand towns competed in a series of physical challenges. Ralph’s 10 years with the Jaycees included roles as president, secretary and treasurer – a harbinger of things to come.
As father of three girls (tragically, his only son was premature and did not survive), Ralph first joined Pakuranga Heights’ primary school committee and became the secretary, before moving on to chairing the school’s first Board of Trustees. He then became a member of Edgewater College Board of Trustees. On leaving the Jaycees he joined Rotary, whom he was with for many years in various roles, like president and secretary, focussing on raising money for community projects.
While he had a challenging, enjoyable career Ralph missed the country life so, when the girls had left home, he moved to Kaukapakapa a few months before his retirement in 2009. “I’d always wanted to go back to my roots and have a little bit of land to play around with,” he says. “I found a house with land and a pond I really liked, and I still do.” The sign on Ralph Andrew Martin’s gate, RAMS RETREAT, plays on his initials.
With a vege garden, two ewes, half a ram, Shaun– the other half is owned by a neighbour-Ralph is busy at home, but community work takes up a lot of his time. As well as acting as the neighbourhood support coordinator for his street, he spent four busy years on KARRA, the Kaukapakapa Residents and Ratepayers Association, four of them as the chairperson. Projects he’s proud of leading in that time include a landscape architect-designed development plan, public meet-the-candidate election meetings, clearing and planting the reserve and lowering the speed limit through the town. He’s a local Justice of the Peace, running clinics at the Helensville Plunket Rooms on Saturday mornings and helps with South Kaipara Rotary projects, like the new orchard at Parakai Primary. His main effort is with the Helensville Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB). After six years as chairperson he’s now ‘just a volunteer’ locally but has a further role as a member of the Auckland CAB Board, a body whose main role is to provide funding for the 31 bureaux in the Auckland Council area.
And that’s not all. In his ‘spare time’ Ralph works as an odd job man for elderly women in Helensville, cleaning out gutters, gardening, painting and mending, for a nominal fee. Recently, he says, he cut a hole in a railing for a cat too fat to jump over the top. All in a day’s work. Ralph is one of those people, then, who exemplify the notion that Helensville is held together by its volunteers. What motivates him? “I enjoy it, “he says. “I like doing practical things, it keeps me busy. I’ve been very lucky in my life and helping people out has always been something I like to do.”
by Helen Martin