Early photo of Richard and Barbara O’Kane. Photo supplied

Barbara O’Kane – past Cromwell Councillor, Justice of the Peace, Marriage Celebrant and Queen’s Service Order (NZ) recipient – reflects on her life in Central Otago.

Now in her early nineties, Barbara was born In Alexandra (the first baby delivered there by Dr Gladstone) and has spent her life since her marriage in Cromwell, so she has a long history of the changes in the town, and a fine history of contribution to our local community.

Barbara decided that Karatane Nursing would be her career, and she began her training in Dunedin.

In a sudden move, she and her fellow Karitane Nurses were told that they must leave Dunedin, and opt to continue in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Invercargill.

Barbara decided on Invercargill, and enjoyed her time there, venturing out on weekend road trips to discover Southland with her fellow nurses.

She worked in Wellington and Auckland, but came back to her parents on breaks, it was in Alexandra that she needed dental work.

At the time, the dentist was Jim O’Kane, but as fate would have it, he had broken his leg, and his brother Dick was helping out.

Barbara went back to her employment in Auckland, but Dick ventured up to Auckland for a visit, and the couple became engaged.

They settled in Cromwell, in their lovely home in Molyneux Avenue, where Barbara developed a beautiful garden of trees and flowers, with an abundance of cherries and other stone fruits.

Barbara, because of her Karatane experience, was immediately gathered into a long association with Plunket.

Dick O’Kane belonged to a family of dentists, with his father, sister and brother all practicing, his brother Jack made dentures for him.

As a busy mother of Vicki, Reany, Rebecca, and Richard. Barbara found time to belong to community clubs – particularly the Drama Club and the Golf Club.

Barbara accepted a role as Cromwell’s JP, and it was at a gathering of Central Otago JP’s that the role of marriage celebrant was discussed.

At first Barbara was not interested, saying, “I don’t want to disturb Dick’s weekends.” After Dick’s sudden death, as there was no-one offering the service in the Cromwell area, Barbara trained, and became well known in this role.

Many of the ceremonies were conducted under the huge tree in her lovely garden.  She did this work at no charge, throughout the Central Otago region, eventually charging a small amount to cover costs and fuel if couples could afford to pay.

Barbara enjoyed the roles of JP and marriage celebrant, because she loved meeting people.

Her position on the local council she found interesting too, and she credits John Skinner with ensuring that Cromwell received the best of facilities.

“He made Cromwell after the damn, and deserves kudos,” says Barbara.

Barbara was made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order (New Zealand) on 6 April, 1998, for Community Services.  She now lives in Golden View Lifestyle Village.

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