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Restoration man

Photo 8 Craig Verschaffelt. for website

Craig Verschaffelt is officially an engineer.

He could also be described as a creative thinker and problem solver. One that wields a welder from time to time.

The Napier Roll of Honour plaques are due to be fitted into the new memorial on Marine Parade by ANZAC Day. Their restoration is Craig’s most public work in recent years.

Each of the 36 granite slabs has been carefully cleaned, and any rough edges smoothed. New pieces of stone, matched as closely as possible to the original, have been added in some places. The letters of those who lost their lives are once again clear to see.

The plaques will be set into aluminium frames custom made by Craig. These will be fitted into the wall section of the design, which pays homage to original war memorial architect, the late Guy Natusch.

Craig took on the job for one reason above all others.

“I wanted to do this because of my family connection,” he says.

Just after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake Craig’s grandfather Peter, a Dutch immigrant and stonemason, considered settling here but decided to head to Northland instead.

The family returned to Hawke’s Bay and bought Hawke’s Bay Monumental Works in the mid-50s. Older Napier folk may recall the big white crane outside the business, on the corner of Munroe and Station Streets. The crane was relocated to West Quay, Ahuriri.

Peter was commissioned to make the WWII plaques for the war memorial, which officially opened in 1957.

Craig’s father Theo and his brothers took over the business. It was eventually sold to Headstone World.

Craig also has a connection to Napier City Council besides the memorial project.

Fresh out of school, he was taken on as a draughtsman by the late Clive Squire, hand drawing waste and stormwater lines onto plans.

Through Council, he met the late Dave Prebensen, then Napier Mayor, owner of Prebensen Pipelines. It was Craig’s workplace for 18 years.

Mayor Prebensen is someone Craig speaks of with great affection. “He really was my mentor. He took my engineering skills to another level. It was a pretty cool place to be.”

He rose through the ranks to the role of production manager before deciding to take a complete break from plastics extrusion. He went cray fishing for three years on the Silver Spur, a wellknown boat in these parts.

Craig currently carries out specialist engineering work for firms including Heinz Wattie’s, Pan Pac Forest Products and Ravensdown.

Eight years ago he worked on the restoration of the Council owned, Edwardian era Blythe Fountain at Clive Square.

Besides fitting marine grade stainless steel bolts to the 1904 structure, Craig used the last remaining lily pad, stored at the Council depot, to re-create more. These were all then replaced in the fountain.

He had no luck tracking down the heron which stood proudly on top of the fountain prior to the 1931 earthquake, despite extensive use of a metal detector while searching one suspected resting place in the Botanical Gardens.

Among Craig’s interesting jobs is the demolition of a 40-metre high gasometer in Dunedin. He’s wellknown in the neighbourhood, and sometimes egged on by friends, for his engineering experiments to see what can be made more efficient, faster, or louder.

He has also built and restored cars.

In Craig’s Onekawa workshop is a visible reminder of his stonemason family roots. The Model A is the HB Monumental Works original delivery vehicle, which sat unused and untouched under the family home for 40 years. “It’s ready for restoration.”

9 February 2023

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