by Helen Martin
Anyone who’s been in the area for a while knows Hilty, either because they were taught by her, had her as a sports’ coach, bought some sorts’ gear from her shop or have seen her out and about working hard in the community.
Yvonne Ritchie was born in the Waikato, then moved with her family to Auckland, where she attended Auckland Girls Grammar, in her leisure time playing cricket, badminton, hockey and netball. After training as a teacher, she landed her second teaching position at Woodhill School, arriving there in February 1963, just two days after the tragic Brynderwyn bus crash that killed several locals, some of whom had children at Woodhill School - a very hard time for everyone.
She has lived in South Kaipara ever since. While in that job she met her future husband Kevin Hilton, a local man whose family had been in the district for many years. The move to Waimauku Primary, marriage and pregnancy followed, then tragedy struck when, after the couple had been together four years, Kevin was accidentally electrocuted and killed. Looking back on this, Hilty is philosophical. ”Life takes some drastic turns, but I had this unborn child I needed to honour, and despite having to do it as a solo mother, it was with pleasure that I brought Neil up.”
Mother and son moved to Helensville in 1975 and, when Neil started school, Hilty took on a relieving job at Kaipara College teaching phys-ed. “I was given the name Hilty while I was at the college, and it stuck. I was there for 13 years and I loved it – for a sports nut it was a dream come true.I got a lot of pleasure out of coaching kids and I became very involved with secondary school athletics – I’m very proud that I’ve had students who’ve achieved national status.”
She became very involved with the Helensville Rugby Club, managing and fitness-training the senior club side for several years. “That was a first for North Harbour, who had just established the North Harbour Rugby Union. I was told I was the first woman in New Zealand to manage a senior club side - rugby was then very much a man’s world.” Evidence of Hilty’s passion is her large library of books about sports men and women, many of them autographed or first editions.
To have a break from teaching she opened a sports goods shop in Commercial Rd (where the Turkish café is now), naming it Hilty’s Sports Store. But it didn’t last. “I discovered after five years that I wasn’t a retailer, I was a school teacher, so I went to Kaukapakapa Primary and was there for 12 years until I retired. I loved it.”
As well as work and motherhood commitments, over the years Hilty travelled the world – her extensive wall-mounted collection of teaspoons bought in faraway places is a reminder of her journeys. At home she became involved in several community activities. Blessed with a big voice, for 24 years she was the announcer at the annual Helensville A&P Show, for 30 years she was the Christmas Parade announcer. “I did it for the children,” she says. “I love to see the looks on the kiddies’ faces when those floats go through.” She has now retired from this position and is keen for someone to take her place, promising she’ll advise and guide them as they settle into the role.
Perhaps Hilty’s most significant contribution has been to the Helensville Lions, which she joined over 20 years ago and where she is still an active member. “I was one of the two first women to join and I’ve done two terms as President. It’s a fabulous group to be part of, there are people from all walks of life and everybody’s on an equal footing. As well as being a wonderful social thing, you’re not compelled, so your involvement is as you wish it to be. We raise funds, which go into a trust fund, and are then shared out to the community to help people. We’ve helped St John’s Ambulance, the schools, various individuals. We put the community building on Rautawhiri Park. We do our telephone directory and book fairs. At the moment our focus is on financing the stations at the fitness trail around Rautawhiri Park.” Because she’s ‘slowing down’, Hilty is hoping the Lions will attract some new members. “We’re all getting older, we need some young blood to carry on,” she says.
Life now for Hilty still includes a big involvement with the Lions, she loves her garden and her cats, spends time with Neil and his family (there are the activities of three grandchildren to keep up with), avidly watches live and televised sport (especially cricket and rugby) and loves going to line dancing in the local hall every week. For the past few years she has knitted children’s jerseys – brightly coloured and beautifully patterned – which she gives to the Salvation Army to distribute to needy families.
“So, that’s what the old girl does,” she says. “I love the small community in Helensville. I love the people and being part of a small town. If something happens, the community pull in behind and assist where they can. It can be a bit Coronation Street at times, but in a caring sort of way. I’ve been here over forty years now, so I think I’m local.”
by Helen Martin