The beautiful property on which Fergusson Hall is now situated was built by the Keiller family in 1908 and was their home for over 50 years. In 1962 they contacted Land Agent Mr John McCaw to discuss selling it. ‘So big,’ he said, ‘Probably unsellable.’
Mr McCaw’s next client was the then minister of St David’s Presbyterian Church in Terrace End, Palmerston North. In a flippant remark, he suggested that Rev Ian Purdie, buy the property and use it as a weekend cottage! But it turned out to be one of these divine moments, which has borne fruit for just over 50 years.
Mr Purdie got thinking about the property, and of course all of Palmerston North was proudly aware of the changing life of the Agricultural College to a full blown University during the 1960s – the whole town was interested in the questions of where to house the students of this new campus.
Purdie dreamed of the Presbyterian Church buying the property, and making it available for students of Massey University. The regional Presbyterian organisation (the Manawatu Presbytery) supported him in this, and, with vision and faith, a 10 pound deposit was paid. The Presbyterian Educational Purposes Trust was formed in 1962 and the required 40,000 pounds was raised over the next two years.
Sculleries, serveries, butteries and the 17 bedrooms of the original grand colonial homestead were reconstructed and converted to accommodate 48 residents. It was officially opened and named Fergusson Hall in 1964 by its namesake, the then Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Bernard Fergusson. Since then 4 cottages, housing 9-10 residents each, have been built.
Since its opening, the Hall been home to more than 3,500 Massey students from all over the world and in 2014 it celebrated this with the 50th Jubilee Reunion. During the event, the main house was named Keiller House in honour the original owners.
Jono Naylor, current list MP for the National party and former mayor of Palmerston North, welcomed guests at the opening ceremony. As a resident in 1985, he recalled one of the property’s best-kept secrets – a bomb shelter hidden in the surrounding bush, built in 1942 in anticipation of a possible World War II invasion by the Japanese. It was only ever invaded by students in the 1980s with ghetto blasters. He said, “Others in the Hall could not hear us down there in spite of the racket we made.” Founding Fergusson Hall inmate and food technology graduate Dick Hubbard, former Auckland mayor and founder of Hubbard Foods, spoke at the reunion dinner.
The first Head of Hall (Warden as he was then known) was John Sargent. His son attended the 50th Reunion and presented a painting of the Hall that was given to his father, probably when he left St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church for Wellington.
There has been a big change at Fergusson Hall this year. Head of Hall for 17 years, Simon Cayzer, has left to take up a position as the National Director of the Navigators. Simon has done a brilliant job while at Fergusson and we were sorry to say goodbye to him but wish him well in his future work. During his time, the role of Head of Hall has become more demanding, changing from a part time to full time job along with greater expectations of what university accommodation will now provide.
Mike and Shelly Butcher have now been appointed to share the position of Head of Hall and are very excited about their new responsibilities. Shelly is familiar with the Hall since she was a resident and residential advisor a number of years ago. They are on a steep learning curve but fortunately have been able to spend time with Simon Cayzer before Christmas.
More about Fergusson Hall can be found on its web site at: http://www.fergussonhall.co.nz .
Ever since its foundation, the Presbyterian Church community has been involved in Fergusson Hall and its representatives have served on the on the Presbyterian Educational Purposes Trust. We thank God that Rev Ian Purdie heard God’s nudge, dreamed of the impossible, and made it happen.