The success of the project is reflected in numbers through the centre in the first seven months of operation – 61, 850 – meaning Wildbase Recovery is well on the way to achieving 100,000 visitors in its first year.
A Rotary Club of Awapuni member since 1988, Rodney twice served as its president – in 1998 and in 2015 – and was Governor of Rotary District 9940, covering the lower North Island in 2005-06.
A Chartered Fellow of the NZ Institute of Directors, Rodney is one of just 10 worldwide senior trainers for the 1.2 million members of Rotary International. Based out of San Diego in California, their role is to impart best practice corporate skills and governance to the organisation’s District Governors.
As well as being a Massey Business School and Veterinary Hospital board member, Rodney also serves as a pro bono mentor for local businesses, organisations, social service agencies and individuals.
When Scott approached him about developing Wildbase Recovery as a nationally significant rehabilitation centre for injured, ill and recovering New Zealand wildlife, Rodney immediately saw the potential. He wasted no time applying his considerable business acumen and facilitation experience to the project.
The pair presented the ambitious idea to the Palmerston North City Council, Massey University, the Department of Conservation and local iwi, who all supported the concept.
A memorandum of understanding was signed between the key parties, with the Palmerston North City Council allocating funds in its long-term plan, and the Central Energy Trust also committing funding.
With a shortfall of around $4 million before the project could become a reality, Rodney and Scott marshalled the region’s Rotarians, Lions Clubs and businesses.
They set up a Charitable Trust and recruited its members, along with several additional high profile national "project ambassadors", while overseeing numerous funding agency applications.
The contributions and community support built steadily, attracting additional funding from Central Energy Trust and Palmerston North City Council that allowed the project to be put out to tender.
In the meantime, Rodney visited the country’s wildlife sanctuaries, including the Otorohanga Kiwi House, Rainbow Springs, Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre and Zealandia. He wanted to learn from their experiences and mistakes.
He asked them all the same question: “If there was one thing you’d do differently, what would it be?”
Rodney used the answers to inform a blueprint for a purpose-built, sustainable and freely accessed rehabilitation centre unlike anything else in New Zealand.
Designed as a place for conservation advocacy and community education pitched primarily at 8 – 12- year-olds (and their parents), Wildbase Recovery even comes with its own operational endowment fund.
The buy-in has been breathtaking. DoC has never allowed this level of public engagement with endangered native wildlife before, granting Wildbase Recovery an unprecedented 30-year permit to view.
Any project that takes eight years is inevitably going to falter from time to time. That’s when qualities of determination and perseverance prove invaluable, and the pair had the capacity to pick things up when momentum failed, and keep everything on track.
The result is stunning.
Since it opened to the public in March, Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery is booked up with visiting schools, features as a prime visitor destination, and is in the running for national awards – all while enhancing the city's profile and conservation consciousness.
Put it down to Rodney and Scott’s single-minded determination and the countless hours of voluntary work they dedicated to seeing it through. Together, they epitomise the spirit enshrined in the city vision: Small city benefits, big city ambition.
The icing on this cake came in August 2019 with the unveiling of a signature Paul Dibble sculpture Te Pūatatangi ki te Ika A Māui/Dawn Chorus on the Fish of Māui erected opposite the entrance of Wildbase Recovery. Listed among its sponsors are Rodney and Angela Wong, and Scott Bruce.