June 11, 2010

NEW ZEALAND: 105 years old but he's still a youngster at heart

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand / East & Bays Courier / News / June 11, 2010

SARAH MOYES - East And Bays Courier

Stephen Todd remembers arriving in Auckland on the morning of January 5, 1925.

The 19-year-old and his family had travelled by boat for six weeks from the coal-mining English village of Blackhall to build a new life in New Zealand.

Mr Todd has just celebrated his 105th birthday and his memory is still perfect. When asked how it feels to reach such a milestone he says he feels "the same as I did when I was 14".

LONG LIFE: Stephen Todd of St Johns turned 105 on June 3. SHANE WENZLICKA

It was when Mr Todd was 14 that his working career began.

With no high school in his village he was sent to work in the coal mines with his father.

He still remembers his first day at work – starting at 4am, driving the pit ponies.

The living conditions in Blackhall were poor and strikes in the mines were frequent.

"Work was getting scarce at that time in the coal mines," Mr Todd says.

The Todd family of six children left Blackhall on a 7000-ton cargo vessel called the SS Dorset.

They emigrated to New Zealand under a government scheme that cost $20 a head to encourage miners to come and settle in the coalmining town of Stockton.

Mr Todd worked in the mine for five years.

Then the demand for coal lessened."

During this time he met Alice Friend, a teacher and friend of his sister Doris.

He says it was love at first sight – and remembers walking her home after dinner the night they met.

The pair married on December 21, 1927, and had three children – Ivan, Thelma and Nola.

During the war, Mr Todd and his three brothers were called up for military service. Mr Todd failed his medical exam so was turned down for service and did not go to war.

Mr Todd and his family moved to Auckland in 1946, where he worked on the railways and lived in Epsom.

Mr Todd has lived alone since Mrs Todd died in 1986. For the past two years he's lived independently at Remuera Care Home.

In celebration of his 105th birthday on June 3, Mr Todd was given a cake decorated with playing cards during his weekly game of 500 at the resthome.

Mr Todd says times have changed since he was young.

He's never been back to England, but says he enjoys living in New Zealand.

"It's a more open life. I'm lucky I still have such a great family."

© 2010 Fairfax New Zealand Limited