THE sun was shining on November 28, 1953 when Pat and Bernie Knight got married at Mount Albert’s St Mary’s Church, in Auckland.
“A beautiful day,” says Pat. “Just before the Queen arrived in New Zealand.”
This month, the couple celebrated their 65th anniversary, a celebration with family at the Haig Street house that has been home for the same number of years.
Like many others at the time, the two had met at a dance hall. “Everyone met at dances in those days,” Pat says. “They were great events with live music and we’d travel all over Auckland to the different dance halls.”
It was at a dance at the Catholic Social Centre in Pitt Street that the two would meet, setting in motion a four-year courtship that would result in a wedding.
Pat was from Auckland and Bernie, who had moved to the city for work, from Whakatane and Te Teko.
Though hailing from a strong farming background – Bernie descends, on his father’s side, from early Whakatane settlers, the Knights, who farmed land in Mokorua, and on his mother’s side, from the Eivers, early settlers who had travelled from Ireland and for whom Eivers Road was named.
Bernie speaks of his father having lost three brothers to World War I, one killed at the Somme, one in Passchendaele, and the other at Gallipoli, with a fourth brother dying in India from malaria during World War II.
As a young man, Bernie says he decided he didn’t want to be a farmer. Interested in mechanics instead, he’d left the family home in Te Teko where he’d been raised on the family farm, moving north and working as an assembler for International Harvesters in Auckland, and later, attending night classes to train as a mechanic.
Pat worked in the offices of Government Life Insurance when they met but like everyone else in those days, she gave up work when she married, moving with her new husband to his home town. Bernie had been offered a job as service manager for CLC Motors in George Street – where he would stay for the next 19 years.
Pat and Bernie purchased the house in Haig Street where they remain today. It has gathered history over the years, and volume, being bigger than it once. Bernie says it was added to over the decades to accommodate their growing family – five daughters and a son, two of whom remain in Whakatane.
It is raising their children, Pat and Bernie say, that brought the strongest bond to their 65-year-old marriage. That, and their long-standing desire to do what they can for their community.
Lonely, when she’d first moved to Whakatane, Pat says it was the Women’s Institute that provided a pathway into her new community. Joining the organisation on the suggestion of a neighbour who had “heard me singing over the fence,” Pat says the institute became the foundation of her new life in a new town.
In 2005, she was awarded Gold Honours at a special ceremony in Dunedin for her services to the Women’s Institute – the highest accolade the institute awards. Pat has been involved for 65 years. “I think I’ve held all the offices at some point or another,” she says, including the role of president overseeing all Institute branches in the Eastern Bay.
“It’s all changed now of course,” she says. “We don’t have the young ones coming through anymore, but the institute has been a big thing in New Zealand history and we had large memberships.” There were 120 in Whakatane during the 60s, and now, just 10.
The institute’s history of choirs and drama events served to both entertain the community, as well as provide strong competitive spirit between the institute’s regions. Pat says its annual pantomime in Whakatane, with an entirely female cast, never failed “to fill the town hall”.
Pat continues her work with the institute today, as well as remaining a regular volunteer in community works that provide assistance to those in need, including weekly stints at St Vincent de Paul.
For Bernie, a strong sense of community also propelled a lengthy and notable involvement in service clubs and organisations. The 65 years since returning to Whakatane as a newly married man have seen his involvement in the Jaycees and the Kiwanis, including two stints as Kiwanis president.
Bernie is a keen outdoor bowls player with a number of Bay of Plenty titles under his belt. He is a past president of the Whakatane Bowling Club, and a life member who is still bowling today.
While the couple are well known for what they’ve brought to the community, they are also known for business ventures undertaken over the years, such as the Monte Carlo Milk Bar opened on The Strand in 1966, “just along from the Regent Theatre”, now Whakamax.
They ran the business for four years until a stint of poor health for Bernie made its operation too difficult.
The couple say selling the milk bar had been a big decision, but a wonderful result was that its sale provided one of the family’s first ever major holidays together.
This was an important milestone for Pat and Bernie whose last “proper” holiday had been their 1953 honeymoon. The honeymoon involved leaving from Auckland in a caravan and spending two weeks touring the East Cape before visiting Taupo and Rotorua “where we saw the Queen on her first visit to New Zealand”.
After the Monte Carlo came various work for Pat; 11 years at a drapery in Kopeopeo followed by work at a curtain shop, and then many years working for Peter Clarke, selling furnishings in the store and making curtains.
Bernie, meanwhile, established his next venture. Auto Accessories in Boon Street sold mechanical parts and accessories for modifying motors, “for making them go faster,” he says, and he ran it until his 1988 retirement.
These days the couple don’t work so hard, but though Bernie is now 92, and Pat 84, they both remain actively involved with community projects. Bernie still enjoys his bowls, and life for the two of them is made sweet by their 17 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.
It hasn’t always been easy, they say of their 65-year-old marriage, but there have never been any doubts. “These days people live in a throw-away society,” Pat says. “No one puts up with anything. But when we got married, it was for life. No question.”