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Sharing the education that changed my life

Warwick Rathgen JP (1950-54)

Despite receiving “quite a lot of canings” in his first two years at school, Warwick Rathgen had his heart set so firmly upon a St Andrew’s College education that he worked every Saturday to help pay his own tuition fees.

Now he is leaving a gift in his Will to the College, so other talented young students can receive scholarships to follow their dreams without financial hindrance.

Even at age 12, the fourth son in a family of five children, Warwick knew he wanted to buck the Rathgen family trend that “a real man makes his living with his hands”, broadening both his academic and professional horizons.

To his huge disappointment, he narrowly missed the 1949 St Andrew’s scholarship entrance exam by just two marks.

“I pleaded with my father to let me attend anyway. He finally said, ‘Ok, Warwick, you can go, but you have to work every Saturday and every school holidays, plus hand over all of your earnings to pay the fees’.”

Warwick worked diligently throughout his schooling at the local wool stores and also on the construction of the St Andrew’s College Chapel in the August holidays of 1953, in order to fund his education.

“I was inspired to achieve, even before I sat the scholarship exam; but St Andrew’s stirred me up and made me even more ambitious.”

Warwick says that at that time, the sons of the sheep farming families were considered the “aristocracy” of the school.

“I looked at the other boys at school with me, and I didn’t want to be not as good as the ‘aristocracy’, or the boys from professional families. I thought, if they can do it, I can too, and I’ll damn well do it better if I can.”

Warwick rose above his early misdemeanours (one of which included nailing a St Andrew’s College cross to the Christ’s College goalposts the night before a rugby match) to become both a College Prefect and Sergeant Major of the Cadets, while also discovering a great talent for writing.

After completing his schooling at St Andrew’s in 1954, he set off on what is now known as an OE (Overseas Experience) but what was then called returning “Home” as a “son of the British Empire”.

His father waved off his ship with the same tough love sentiment he had applied to his son’s schooling.

“He shook my hand and said, ‘Good luck, son. I want you to know that if you ever have any difficulties, I will always be here. But, of course, if you do have to call on that, it will be something of a failure on your part’.

“I ascended the gang plank in a cold fury, but it was, perhaps, the best thing he could have said to me, because it really did fire me up to prove my adulthood and independence.”

To his family’s continuing dismay, after Warwick returned from his travels two years later, he enrolled at what was then Canterbury College and graduated as a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Canterbury in 1961.

His first job out of university was in marketing for Unilever, where he quickly rose to the role of nationwide marketing manager. Eventually, he turned to dairy farming, and then achieved his ultimate goal of joining the sheep farmers, also later becoming a Justice of the Peace.

Warwick says St Andrew’s College changed his life.

“If I hadn’t gone to St Andrew’s, I would likely still have succeeded, but St Andrew’s made it easier for me to do so, and I’m very grateful for that.”

“The culture of the boys, and their broader outlook on life, with more ambition to achieve, had such an impact.”

“I would hope that I could also be useful in leaving something behind, so another boy or girl could have the same benefits I did. Because people were really very helpful to me.”