Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 40, September 1996


By Gordon Mathieson

Miss Stella Baird, B.A., who died on 20 October 1993 at Everil Orr Rest Home, Mt. Albert, aged 88 years, was considered the earliest surviving teacher of the Secondary Department of the former Paeroa District High School in Wood Street. Born on 23 May 1905 in Auckland, Stella Baird attended Newton West School from 1910 (where one of her teachers had previously taught at Paeroa from 1900-1909 - Miss Maud Schroff). Following secondary years at Auckland Girls' Grammar, she was at Auckland Teachers' Training College and University, graduating with a B.A. degree in 1928.

Her teaching locations included Kowhai Intermediate (Mt. Eden); Hawera High School; Paeroa District High School; Pasadena Intermediate (near Auckland Zoo); Penrose High School; Selwyn College (Kepa Road, Kohimarama); and finally Northcote College, 1961-70.

Languages were her great love, and in her retirement years, kept active, even to the extent of learning several more, including Russian, Italian, Classical Greek and Maori. These were in addition to the English, French, German and Latin that she'd taught throughout her career.

Stella Baird took up her appointment at Paeroa District High School in Wood Street, on 22 May 1933, replacing Miss Madeline Leitch. At that time there were only two secondary staff at the school, the other being Mr E A Hart (who was a temporary replacement for the departed Mr Edgar Preston), followed by Mr J W Buchan, who relieved until the end of 1933. Their successors were Mr Lincoln Smith (1934-35) then Mr Ronald P Callaway (1935-47).

From May 1936 a third staff member was appointed, Mr D P Melville who stayed two years, being followed by Mr John Jensen. (From 1929-33 there was a third staff member, Mr Fred Cassidy, but he was not replaced after his departure owing to the Great Depression.)

By the latter part of the 1930s, the secondary department's days in the Wood Street School were numbered. Chronic overcrowding there by 1938 meant an emergency move to the Methodist Centenary Hall for the 69 pupils. (This location was known as 'Centenary College' - it is now Robertson's Funeral Home.)

For two years they languished there until the completion of a new secondary school on Te Aroha Road in September 1940. This building of four spacious classrooms, an immense improvement on the previous arrangement, was officially opened by the Minister of Education, Mr H G R Mason on 20 November 1940. (It was extended by two more rooms in 1944, and is the present 'B' Block at Paeroa College.) Stella Baird lived through it all, she being the only staff member who had taught at the three locations that the secondary department had occupied.

Altogether, she spent almost nine years at Paeroa, and was given a public farewell at the Civic Hall in Wharf Street on the eve of her departure to take up a position at the newly opening Pasadena Intermediate School at Western Springs. At her farewell, held on 20 March 1942, she was presented with an initialled leather attache case by Douglas Haslett (son of Dr. Selwyn Haslett), a posy of carnations by Margaret McWatters, and an artistic mirror-framed picture by Mr K Ryall on behalf of past pupils.

The Headmaster during the whole of Miss Baird's time here was Mr Arthur Edward Day.

For over 40 years she lived at Braemar Terrace, Mt. Albert until a stroke at the age of 85, early in 1991, curtailed her activities and caused her to move into the Everil Orr Rest Home, where she passed away.