A century of service

Les Marsh celebrates his 100th birthday. Photo: John Borren.

Increased fragility has dashed Les Marsh’s plan to celebrate his centenary by climbing Mauao, but he’s not letting that dampen his spirits.

Les walked around Mauao for his 99th birthday and had been training for the climb to the top by doing laps around the garden of his retirement village. Last year he told The Weekend Sun about his plans to climb the landmark.

He turned 100 on January 16 and celebrated with his three sons, other family, friends and staff and residents at Radius Althorpe.

Les’ life has been underpinned by a strong faith in God and this desire to serve led him and his late wife Hazel around the world.

They spent 1972 visiting New Zealand missionaries on all continents and moved to Papua New Guinea in 1974 to teach at an isolated bush Bible school for 14 years.

Living in mud and slush and tramping in the bush was all worth it because they taught people how to read and write and shared their faith, says Les.

“We thought it was all worthwhile because eternity depends on this.”

Like many Kiwi men his age, Les served in the New Zealand Army during WWII. While training in Te Aroha he met Hazel and they spent two years courting via correspondence when Les was serving in New Caledonia in the field ambulance.

On returning to Aotearoa they were engaged then Les set off in 1945 for Egypt, the Middle East and Italy.

“I grew up pretty quick there because you get called up when you're 21 and it's amazing how little you know.”

The centenarian was born in Auckland, lived a lot of his childhood in Onehunga and attended Seddon Memorial Technical College in his early teens, where he studied agriculture.

With no work available, farming wasn’t to be, he became a delivery boy then in 1937 he got a job as a printer earning 10 shillings a week.

After a life of printing and serving God, he retired to Katikati at age 66, but he kept up his community spirit by maintaining the town flower gardens and did return trips to Papua New Guinea.

Les has never been one to baulk at a challenge. During his 80s he did the Rotorua Round the Lake Marathon five times with his son John.

One year Les won first place in the Masters category and the running family joke is he took out first place because he was the only one over 80 running the race, he recalls with a grin. 

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