LOVE OF CHILDREN: Madeleine Park enjoys her last week with children at the Opotiki Community Childcare Centre before retirement. Photo James Sandbrook OB4508-01

AFTER 23 years of teaching at the Opotiki Community Childcare Centre, Madeleine Park is retiring.

Having worked at the centre since 1995, Mrs Park remembers when the site was much smaller and less equipped.

At the time, there were about six staff caring for 30 children. Now, with 23 staff, the centre can care for up to 70 children, including 15 babies under two years old.

“We never used to have a morning tea room, or an under-two area,” she said.

Mrs Park started out as a volunteer, working a few hours every week. This led to part-time, and eventually full-time employment.

“I thought I would come in and see if there was a job, and I’ve never looked back,” she said.

During her two-decade stint at the centre, Mrs Park said she had filled various roles.

“I’ve done everything,” she said.

“Everything” included receiving a black eye in the line of duty, thanks to an oblivious toddler and a plastic spade.

“There was a boy digging in the sandpit, and I leaned over him to see what he was doing, and he brought the spade up,” she said.

“The children are fantastic to work with, they keep you young.”

The spade incident happened about 10 years ago, Mrs Park recalls, and she shares a laugh with her colleagues at the memory.

“It was a real shiner too,” she said.

Mrs Park’s last official day at the centre will be on Friday, but she said she might come in every now and again afterwards.

She said she was looking forward to retirement with her husband, and doing exciting things in her own time.

“I have a granddaughter here at childcare and I’m looking forward to the arrival of a grandson in December.”

Co-worker and assistant manager Jane Fermanis speaks highly of Mrs Park, both as a friend and colleague.

“If we ever wanted to find something, she’s the one we’d ask to find it. She just knew the buildings so well.

“She’d come back five minutes later holding it, and we’d been looking all day.

“That’s one of the things we’re really going to miss,” she said.

Mrs Fermanis also said Mrs Park’s “reliability and loyalty to the centre” had shown prominently in her time there.

Centre manager Robyn Brooks agrees.

“Madeleine is a gem of a teacher who we’ve shared many memories with,” she said.

She makes special mention of Mrs Park’s “dedication, loyalty, and most of all her love for the children”.