Paddy O'Neill is the leader of the volunteers who have turned around the financial fortunes of the Dunedin Bowls Stadium in the past seven years.O'Neill (73) joined the committee when he retired as an estimator at Millers Mechanical and was elected president three years later.
At that time, the stadium had a debt of $1.4 million.
He has led the team of 50 volunteers who have reduced the debt by half to $700,000.
O'Neill has engendered a family spirit in the bowls community and bowlers back his plan to pay the remaining debt.
"While paying off debts is important, it would be a sad day if we ever put dollars before people," O'Neill said.
The softly, softly approach has worked, with all 900 members, and the general public who play there occasionally, backing the committee's repayment plan.
The work of O'Neill and the stadium committee was recognised at the Otago Sports Awards on Friday night when O'Neill was given the Services to Sport award.
"It came out of left field. It was completely unexpected," O'Neill said.
"I feel that my award recognises the success the stadium volunteers have achieved in turning around the financial position."
When the Bowls Stadium was officially opened in July 1995, it had cost $2.1 million, with a big debt to pay off.
It was recently revalued at $6 million.
It was the brainchild of Pat O'Dea, who had seen how successful such stadiums were in the United Kingdom.
"If it had not been built 15 years ago it would never have happened," O'Neill said.
Seven years ago, Sport Otago's Allan Nichols presented a business plan to the Dunedin City Council that received council backing.
"He showed us the way and gave us the confidence to know that we could do it," O'Neill said.
The Bowls Stadium Trust repays about $100,000 to the council each year - $75,000 from membership fees and raffles, $20,000 from a local trust and the rest from debenture holders who have gifted their debentures.
There was a lot of opposition when the stadium idea was mooted and in its first few years.
But it has now changed.
"All the anti people have disappeared," O'Neill said.
"People come along and have fun and enjoy themselves."
This was typified yesterday when the weekly Wednesday morning fours competition was played with a full green of 32 bowlers.,"We are making a big social impact," O'Neill said.
"Too many retired people stay at home and watch television."
There are 900 members of the Bowls Stadium and 600 bowlers play there each week.
"We have a world-class facility and are lucky to have it in Dunedin," O'Neill said.
"The decision of the Dunedin City Council to help us out was a good one."
The stadium also caters for top-class bowls, with the Professional Bowls Association holding events there during the winter months.
O'Neill grew up in Belfast and emigrated to Dunedin with his family in 1958.
He has competed in cycling and played second grade soccer for Roslyn Wakari before starting bowls 25 years ago with the Tainui club.
He has been a bowls umpire for 20 years, was president of the Bowls Dunedin Umpires Association for three years and chief umpire when the New Zealand championships were held in Dunedin three years ago.
The stadium will host the finals weekend for this year's Professional Bowls Association competition in September.
The schedule for the PBA season is:
June 5-7: Shanghai singles and world indoor singles qualifying in Pukekohe, Hamilton, Hastings and Dunedin. June 19-20: Scottish International open singles qualifying in Hamilton, Hastings and Dunedin. July 19-21: Australia v NZ PBA Challenge at Tweed Heads. August 21-2: Welsh International open singles qualifying in Pukekohe, Hastings and Dunedin. September 3-5: NZ PBA Finals weekend in Dunedin.
Dunedin Bowls Stadium
Driving force: Pat O'Dea. President: Paddy O'Neill. Opened: July 1995. Cost: $2.1 million (revalued at $6 million today). Debt: $1.4 million 7 years ago (reduced to $700,000). Membership: 900 (600 play each week). Elite: PBA events.