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Hilda Griffin (née Allen)

1939 – 1940 / NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street Campus)

Hilda was the 8th of 10 children, and one of the few among her peers who attended high school, as most had to stay on their farms to help milk the cows. She went on to train as a nurse at Auckland Hospital, living in the nurses’ home and attending the Baptist Tabernacle – where she loved the preaching of Rev. Joseph Kemp. As a young adult, an Easter Convention at Ngaruawahia was a major influence in her decision to attend the NZ Bible Training Institute. After nursing in Whangarei and Raglan, Hilda entered NZBTI in 1939 aged 27.

The regulated day was a shock to a young woman who had been brought up in the rural environs of Ramarama. The morning bell woke students at 6.15 am, followed by a 15 minute drill (with genders exercising separately – the girls on the roof), quiet times, morning worship, duties, and then one-hour lectures through to lunchtime. A half hour of free time after lunch (unless you were on dishes) was followed by study in their own rooms until teatime. Then, evening worship, more study time, and lights out at 10.30 pm.

Classes were five days a week, with a test every Friday. Every Friday night was “Report Night”, with students recording how much study they had done that week. Anyone who had done less than half an hour of Greek a day could expect a note from Superintendent, Mr J. Oswald Sanders, which Hilda duly received!

It was an era where the two genders were kept strictly apart; even at meals men and women sat at separate tables. It was the Matron’s job to chase any young people up if she saw them getting too friendly! The students were able to mix at social events two or three times a year which Hilda found very awkward occasions. [1]

Students also spent time in ministries outside the environs of NZBTI. There were regular open air meetings on the Tabernacle steps, with students taking turns to speak. Hilda helped lead the Nurses’ Bible Class at Auckland Hospital, taught Sunday School at Pitt Street Methodist, was involved in an open air Sunday School in Freemans Bay, and later taught at the Greenlane Congregational Sunday School. Initially Hilda took the tram, but then bought a bike and rode that as a way of saving on the fares. To save money, Hilda cycled from NZBTI to her home in Ramarama on her term holidays.

Those two years were rich ones for Hilda. She proved to be an excellent student, graduating with honours on 11 December 1940 at a ceremony at the Baptist Tabernacle. Many of her male classmates were later called up for military service, with one killed in action. After NZBTI Hilda went district nursing in Northland. Living in the settlements of Te Hapua and Paua, the people there taught her to ride wild horses and to speak te reo Māori. Horse-riding skills came in useful when she had to reach rural families by horseback when roads were undriveable – though one of her horses refused to canter and one day went off and returned to the wild.[2]

Three years later she was seconded to do midwifery at St Helen’s, then went on to Plunket training in Dunedin and spent time at a health camp in Port Waikato, before district nursing in Onewhero, in the Waikato.

It was at this time that a dormant romance picked up again. Hilda had earlier met Cyril, the brother of a fellow student at NZBTI. A friendship had begun and Cyril later proposed by letter. However, Hilda decided Cyril was too busy (he was a fruiterer and gardener). While nursing in Onewhero, Hilda learnt that Cyril had had an accident. She wrote her condolences to him, and Cyril took this as an opportunity to pursue a romance again. His recuperation gave him time to spend with Hilda, and he accompanied her on her district nursing rounds. This time he proposed in person!

The couple married in 1947 and moved to rural Hobsonville to farm on 180 acres of bush clad land with a few cows. They started a Sunday School in their home as soon as they got married. They moved a hall from Remuera which became the Hobsonville Road Sunday School. This grew into what is now the Westgate Baptist Church. The couple later gifted that land to the church. At the time they were considering selling their farm, Board members from NZBTI looked it over with a view to purchase – but later decided to buy land on Lincoln Road for a new campus. Cyril and Hilda’s status as pioneers in that area were recognised when a street and park were named after them - Cyril Crescent in Hobsonville, and Hilda Griffin Reserve.

Hilda ran weekly Bible studies in her home in Hobsonville for over six decades – outliving everyone in her Bible study group. She maintained a practice of daily Bible reading, using Scripture Union’s large print guide when her eyesight started to fail.

Her life reflected the words she wrote in her application to NZBTI in 1938: “If we are willing to give our talents to further His work, He will use them, no matter how small and trivial they are”. Hilda was this College’s oldest living graduate until her death at age 105 on 27 August 2016.

[1] These memories of Institute life came from memoirs written by Hilda from her diary entries, and an interview with Hilda for an alumni newsletter in July 2015 when she was aged 104.

[2] “Hilda’s still teaching at 100”, Stuff article, 17 June 2011

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