Don celebrates 100th birthday with big party


Donald 'Don' Keen. Photo: Supplied
Donald 'Don' Keen. Photo: Supplied
Living a long life is down to the family genes for Canterbury centenarian Donald Keen.

The Rangiora man celebrated his 100th birthday on Thursday at the Holmwood Care Centre.

Don’s mother Ethel made it to 109, an older brother got to 106 and another sister reached 102.

Ethel was the oldest living New Zealander in 1982 when she died.

About 30 relatives and friends joined Don's three children - Donna, Sharon and David, who had travelled from Perth, for a family celebration at the facility.

When Don was a youngster, his father Edwin Keen used horses to cultivate the family’s market garden plots at Morven, just north of the Waitaki River on the way to Waimate in South Canterbury.

"We had two horses, some cows and a few pigs," Don said.

"My job in the mornings before I would set out to catch the train to secondary school was to separate the cream using a churning separator."

Ethel made their butter and any surplus was sold to the Waimate Creamery.

She was also a dab hand at curing bacon.

With 11 children in the family, the sleeping arrangements at their small homestead saw five of the children stay in an outside hut with an oil drum furnace to provide heat over winter.

Life was hard but fun in the small rural community, which boarded the main trunk railway line in Morven.

The second youngest of the family, Don still recalls being carried on his older brother Tom’s shoulders as they crossed the Waihao River bridge during one of many flood events, surrounded by raging water, trees and debris.

He also recalls family fishing trips to the nearby coast to supplement the family meals.

Don said he preferred eels to trout. The fishing trips often produced more than they could eat, so the excess was used to manure the paddocks.

While Don was at technical college in Timaru, his father died aged 59.

His father volunteered for military service in the Boer War but was invalided home after contracting severe illnesses, including influenza and dysentery.

When World War 2 started Don was working as a clerical cadet at the New Zealand Railways.

He was called up in 1941 and, after his basic training, was posted to an anti-aircraft battery on the foreshore of Dunedin.

In 1943 he was recalled to the railways department and lived in Alexandra before he was recalled back to the army in May 1945.

When the war ended, Don volunteered to join the J Force contingent to serve in Japan where he witnessed the devastation caused by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

Discharged in 1947 he returned to the railways, working at Ravensbourne in Dunedin.

In 1949 he married Estelle Kennedy. The couple had three children.

He became station master at Seacliff where he had many adventures with patients absconding from the nearby mental health facility.

He and his growing family then moved to Clyde.

A couple of years later, he was transferred to Springfield, then eventually Sockburn.

He retired after 40 years of service with NZ Railways in 1980.

But Don didn’t stay retired for long - taking a role in the transport industry in Christchurch.

Estelle died in 1983. Don retired again and took up lawn bowls where he met an old friend of his late wife.

Amel and Don were married in 1986.

The couple travelled and played bowls for the next 17 years until Amel died in 2003.

Don moved to Holmwood in September 2023.