Sisters Barbara Walls and Monica Stanway are almost two decades apart in age so never actually lived together until they both moved to Ōmokoroa Country Estate 10 years ago.
Barbara arrived first in August 2011 with her husband, Bob, who sadly passed away within six weeks of moving in. “He would have absolutely loved it here,” the 91 year-old says. “We had been to look at a number of retirement villages but they were all a bit regimented. But when we visited here it was like a village street. It was wonderful.”
The arrival of her youngest sibling at OCE two years later in 2013 has allowed the pair to reconnect and develop a relationship they never had as children growing up in Whenuakite in the Coromandel. “I got married the year after Monica was born,” Barbara says. Her sister laughingly adds, “I had to come here [to OCE] to learn what Barbara was like.”
Monica and her husband, Dean, came to visit Barbara and fell in love with the village as soon as they drove down Anderley Avenue. The couple now live on Sienna Close after turning down the initial offer of living right next door to Barbara – a fact that still generates riotous laughter between the pair today.
“We both love it here,” Barbara says. “We have four other siblings and lots of children and grandchildren so it’s like a mini reunion whenever someone comes to visit.”
The sisters’ parents, Owen and Edith Hamilton, owned a dairy farm in the days when there were no roads, electricity or tractors to make life easier. The local primary school at Whenuakite only had a dozen students when Barbara attended (all of whom were related), and she only had two years of secondary education before leaving to work fulltime on the farm.
She eventually moved to Auckland to undertake a dressmaking apprenticeship at George Courts. She then worked in an orphanage in Papatoetoe as a house mother and met her future husband at a presbyterian church before getting married at age 20. The couple raised five children together and Bob re-trained as a teacher, eventually moving to Paeroa and then Tauranga to work at Otumoetai College in their technical and engineering department.
“In his last year of teaching Bob was organising the adult education classes so I decided to study Sixth Form Certificate in typing and English. I spent a lot of the time in tears but I’m so glad I did it!
“After Bob retired from teaching we volunteered in Samoa for the methodist church for two years. The Samoan government was concentrating on teaching technical skills to secondary school students so Bob did that. I wasn’t allowed to work but I did sew a lot of dresses for the local girls,” Barbara chuckles.
By the time Monica went through Whenuakite Primary School, the roll had grown to 50 students and she was able to catch a series of buses and ferries to attend secondary school at Mercury Bay. “In fifth form the local BNZ bank manager came up to the school looking to hire a staff member so I got the job,” she recalls. “I loved commercial practice and did really well at that.”
She too was married at age 20 after falling in love with Dean whom she met at the Whitianga pie cart one day. “He was doing fencing and building all over the Coromandel. But after we married he decided he wanted to be a dairy farmer so we went and worked for Dad for 12 months.”
A series of contract milking jobs ensued all over the Waikato and the couple eventually bought their own 260 acre farm in Titoki, Northland. “It was a big property and we reared everything. I was very hands-on on the farm and I also had four kids under five so it was busy.”
Fourteen years went by and Monica’s children started to leave home. “We lost our workforce basically,” she laughs. “So we sold up and moved to Gordonton in the Waikato where we had 170 acres.”
By the time they visited Barbara at OCE, they had sold their farm, done some overseas travel and were ready to retire. “I listened to Barb’s advice that she wished she’d moved into the village 10 years earlier. So we didn’t hang about.”
While they don’t live in each other’s pockets, the siblings are both involved in multiple activities including volunteering at Mainly Music, and participating in line dancing, exercise classes and a ukulele group.
Between them, the sisters have 25 grandchildren and Barbara has an additional 16 great grandchildren. “Our mother lived to be 105 years-old,” Barbara muses.
“Don’t put that in there,” Monica adds… “or people will think they’ll be stuck with us forever!”