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Owen Henton

1947-1948 / NZBTI (Queen Street Campus)
1959-1973 / Orchardist and Property Manager (Henderson Campus)

Owen left school at age 12 as he was badly needed to work on his family’s farm in Paeroa during the Depression years. With his three brothers all in the Armed Forces, he remained on the farm for 10 years – describing that time as “very hard work and toil for my Dad with nothing in return, financially.”[1] He was converted at 17 through an interdenominational Saturday night cottage meeting when for the first time he became aware of God’s call on his life.

Despite the subtle voice of the Devil, “one of them being the suggestion that my standard of education was too poor to ever think of entering BTI”, Owen applied to BTI and was accepted, beginning his studies in 1947 at age 24. [2] The call of God on his life was tested early in his studies when he was asked to return to the farm as part owner. The turning point in his inner questioning was the verse from Luke 9:62: “And Jesus said unto him, No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God”.

In his second year of study, Owen met a new student Grace, the daughter of the Principal of NZBTI, John Deane. That same year, he was accepted as a mission candidate with CIGM (Ceylon and India General Mission). Owen sailed for India in late 1949. Grace arrived in 1950, and they were married in 1951. Most of their time was spent in rural evangelism, with their final year spent helping in a small Nepali Bible School. Grace’s persistent ill-health forced a return to NZ in 1954. They were sent by CIGM to East Pakistan for a brief period, but Grace’s continuing poor health brought them back to NZ.

In 1959, Owen was appointed Orchardist and Property Manager of the 19-acre site on Lincoln Road for NZBTI’s new campus. Owen, Grace and their two sons, David and Graham, moved into an old farmhouse on the site – the first staff to live on the property. Owen cleared the land for the new building programme, planted perimeter trees, cultivated and restocked the existing orchard, and grew a large kitchen garden. Frequently, it was Owen’s tractor that pulled the contractors’ vehicles out of the mud during the construction of the new campus. It was Owen who laid out the lawns and supervised the landscaping of the new site.

Tragedy struck the Henton family later that same year. On 21 December 1959, Grace, 6-year-old David, and John Deane were killed in a car accident at Huntly while driving to visit family. Reflecting on this time in a Reaper profile in 1977, Owen recalled:

Perhaps the greatest challenge to my own personal faith and trust in God came to me at the time of losing Grace, David and John Deane in their tragic accident in 1959. We had commenced our work which we felt would be of some value to the College. We had seen a gradual and steady return to good health in Grace, we were blessed with two lovely boys and we had found our niche in the Henderson Baptist Church and then, so unexpectedly, their going.

One soon realised it was of no great point in spending endless days in seeking the reasons for such a tragedy but far better to face life positively and to ask God’s help in getting on with the job and to accept the fact that He, in all His planning, knows the reason for all and the end from the beginning. [3]

He went on to note that the God who took away, gave again and paid tribute to Ngaire, who became his wife in 1961 and worked closely with Owen in all he did on the College property. Along with Owen’s surviving son Graham, the couple had three children, Warren, Morgan, and Tracey.

When the Institute opened on the new Lincoln Road Campus in 1961, Owen ensured the kitchen received ample supplies of fruit and vegetables. He ran the orchard as an income stream for NZBTI and built great relationships with neighbouring property owners and orchardists. He also became very competent in the plethora of skills needed to maintain a growing property.

When eventually the property was divided and the lower half sold to the Waitakere City Council, the orchard and gardens became too small to be viable and Owen’s role changed to Property Manager. Owen and Ngaire had a lot to do with students and not only supervised outside duties on the land, but also had spiritual input into the students’ lives.

Owen finished his role at the College in late 1973 and took up a position in Waihi as Production Manager for a lighting company where he stayed for many years. Ngaire ran an Interflora Florist business until retirement.

Owen passed peacefully at home on 5 November 2020 aged 97.

[1] Written in his application to NZBTI in 1946.

[2] ibid

[3] “Profile of a Graduate”, Reaper, Vol. 57/No. 1 (February 1977), p. 20

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