Recognizing Stratford’s Hardest Working Citizens

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Walter Pease was nervous when a letter from the District Council arrived in his letterbox – he thought he was in trouble.

Instead, the Whangamona man found he was one of eight Stratford District residents to be recognized for their contribution to their community.

“There are a lot of people here who do as much as I do. It’s the people who make a place,” he said.

Joining him at the awards ceremony next month are Bruce Cleland, Patsy Commerford, Tony Gordon and Colin Jones, along with Young Citizen Award winners Keisya Gunawan and Abbey Sextus.

For only the fourth time in the neighborhoods’ 30-year history, an Outstanding Citizen title has been awarded.

Ian Benefield received the Outstanding Citizens Award for his work at A&P Showgrounds and with the Salvation Army.

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Ian Benefield received the Outstanding Citizens Award for his work at A&P Showgrounds and with the Salvation Army.

Ian Benefield has been recognized for his decades of work at A&P Showgrounds, where he is affectionately known as the “fox terrier of the field”, and for his 30 years of involvement with the Salvation Army.

“My goal is to inspire others. If you can do something useful and make a difference for someone or something, it’s worth it,” Benefield said.

Pease said he was honored to be in the company of such people.

The farmer and entrepreneur grew up in the Eastern Districts and went to primary school in Huiakama before attending New Plymouth Boys High School and then leaving the area.

But his love for Taranaki kept bringing him back, and he worked as a farmer and entrepreneur helping other farmers with his “hands-on” services.

When her children started school, Pease helped with the board of trustees, fundraising events, bee work, and took over the role of chairman of the board.

“It’s just something you do in a small district,” Pease said. “We are all trying to do our part.”

The awards are an annual tradition that spans more than 30 years, inviting the community to share nominations for people who go the extra mile.

Bruce Cleland is not the first member of his family to receive the award.

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Bruce Cleland is not the first member of his family to receive the award.

Bruce Cleland of Toko is recognized for his community service in tennis, volleyball and the TET Multisport Stadium, which he played a key role in developing.

He has been a member of the Stratford Tennis Club since 1988, president for 26 years, and was instrumental in raising funds to upgrade four illuminated Astro grass courts.

Bruce has also been involved in Taranaki Regional tennis, a member of the Taranaki Tennis Association since 1989 and became a life member in 2021.

He was also president of the Stratford Volleyball Club and member of the Taranaki Volleyball Committee, and president of the Stratford Combined Sports Society for 21 years.

Bruce is not the first member of his family to receive a Citizen Award, as his father, Neville, was recognized in 2016.

Stratford theater mainstays Patsy Commerford and Tony Gordon.

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Stratford theater mainstays Patsy Commerford and Tony Gordon.

Patsy Commerford and Tony (Baz) Gordon have helped keep theater alive in the neighborhood. Both members of Stratford on Stage, they have spent hundreds of hours maintaining and renovating The Castle on Regan Street, upgrading it for smaller productions.

Patsy is the costume expert, managing the wardrobe for all of the Stratford on Stage shows, while Tony is the driving force behind the construction sets.

As active members of the King’s Theater Trust, both have played a vital role in the theater’s facelift in recent months and, away from the stage, have been involved with Stratford Cricket Club for over 20 years.

Colin Jones died a few days after receiving the letter informing him of his appointment.

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Colin Jones died a few days after receiving the letter informing him of his appointment.

Colin Jones’ family will accept his award. Colin died just days after receiving the letter informing him of his nomination, which recognized his commitment to agriculture and the community, including rugby, bowling, cricket and the Harness Racing Club.

Outside of sport, Colin was a member of the Toko Fire Brigade in the 90s and was inducted as a Justice of the Peace at Stratford Courthouse in 1980. He was the third longest serving member to date, marking 40 years service in 2020. .

While in retirement, he volunteered for the Stratford Hospice Shop, starting in 2016 and only recently quitting due to health issues.

Keisya Gunawan has been recognized for her contribution to the Stratford District community with a Young Citizen Award.

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Keisya Gunawan has been recognized for her contribution to the Stratford District community with a Young Citizen Award.

Keisya Gunawan, a student at Stratford High School, holds a number of leadership positions, including being president of her student council.

She is also Co-Chair of the Stratford District Youth Council, Youth Advisor to Whanganui Constituency Youth MP Ebony Kalin, and led an educational and fundraising event at Stratford High School for the ‘Ukraine.

Keisya receives a Young Citizen Award, as does Abbey Sextus, another student from Stratford Secondary School, who has a long list of achievements in academic, sporting and voluntary activities.

Abbey Sextus received a Young Citizen Award.

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Abbey Sextus received a Young Citizen Award.

Abbey is part of the Flyers Swim Squad, represented Stratford High School at NZ Secondary School Swimming, won gold in the 200 meter butterfly while representing Taranaki at the Division 2 Swimming Championships and competed in swimming competition in Flannagan Cup open water.

Abbey volunteers across all sports coaching rugby and Toko touch basketball teams, officiating netball and serving on committees like the School Sports Council and the TSSA Student Leadership Group. She also participates in fundraisers and community events like the A&P Show.

Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke said: “Year after year we have appointments worthy of this recognition. There is no end to the good, community-minded people here in the heart of Taranaki,” he said.

Friends and family are invited to attend the awards ceremony on Tuesday August 2 at 5.30pm at the Function Facility, War Memorial Centre, Stratford.

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