Happy Birthday: 1945-2020
In his book, Opening A Window to the World, Frank Yoder ‘69 describes what the first students would have seen as they began their first day of classes on September 17, 1945. His words create a vivid picture that takes us back to those early days of our school and captures the comparison of a rooted theology with the newness and unknown terrain of their endeavour.
“The white farmhouse sitting on the hillside south of Lower Deer Creek Church looked somehow out of place. The large nearby trees combined with the older building to create a sense of maturity and permanence that contrasted with the newly dug dirt and other obvious signs of recent construction and remodeling. Few people seeing it for the first time would have taken it for a new high school, and yet it did not look like the other farmhouses in the surrounding countryside.”
Iowa Mennonite School (as it was first named) began with 29 freshmen and 8 sophomore students. Even with only 37 students and 3 instructors, the house labeled as White Gables was cramped, creating an intimate atmosphere like the familiar one-room country schools the high school students were accustomed to. All classes met in the small, white building. The freshman met in the largest room, the smaller group of sophomores moved from place to place, and with space at a premium, everyone squeezed in as best they could at one time. For instance, Bible class and a study hall met in the same room. Choruses practiced upstairs in a small room with a sloping ceiling that made the space feel even more confining. Leaving the door open kept decibel levels down enough to make practice tolerable.1
Those were just some of the challenges the school in its infancy faced that first year. Right from the beginning, the school year was fraught with trials and uncertainty. Because of unavoidable circumstances, principal Silas Horst F ‘45-48 was not able to be on the small, 2.5 acre campus until Christmas. In his absence, the work was carried on by the other two faculty members, Samuel Nafziger F ‘45-52 and Esther Detwiler F ‘45-51. Equipping the school was an almost impossible task because of the war restrictions and priorities of 1945. For instance, books ordered in October arrived in March. In spite of what seemed like overwhelming handicaps, the first year’s work got done and the way towards a long and bright future was paved.2
Seventy-five years later we celebrate our birthday with gratitude and hopefulness. The bishops and ministers that met all those years ago to plan what a school for Mennonite youth would be like, probably never imagined what their dream would become over the years.
A community of Mennonite and non-Mennonite, of black and white and brown, of dreamers, of doers, of scholars, of leaders and servants, of artists, of champions, of actors and singers all created in God’s image as unique individuals with infinite worth.
As we look for the best way to move forward, to change our world for the better, we are inspired to impact our community and we are excited about the future because we are the ones creating it. With God as our foundation and guide, tomorrow we will lead others through our faith.
1 Yoder, Frank. Opening A Window to the World. 1994. Chapter 3. 2 Reverie. 1948.