Goplen Lived Service at Hillcrest

Dust whipped against the worn wood siding of Ida Goplen’s home in Binford, North Dakota. The young Goplen lay silent in a soft blanket under hushed voices overhead. Born two months premature, Goplen wasn’t expected to live more than a few hours from her birth date July, 17 1904. In facing nearly certain demise, the Lord tarried Ida’s breath past her short seven month prenatal development to a lasting legacy at Hillcrest and more than 36,000 visitations during World War II.

“The child will live,” Goplen’s mother sternly broke, piercing the silent whispers from the doctor who held Ida’s two and one-half pound frame in his arms. Ida was the first child born to Daffin and Marie Goplen, 22 days after their first anniversary of marriage. “If only we could build and incubator, she might have a chance,” the doctor responded.

Ida’s father and uncle built a make-shift incubator that stayed the premature baby and allowed her to develop. She outgrew the incubator and started to form her faith in the shadow of her strong parents. Both were consistent presentations of God’s grace for her. She built a strong faith that was resilient in the home. The Bible was constantly open next to the bread dough her mother kneaded. Ida’s mother traveled daily to the mission fields of Africa and China in prayer. Her knees were worn, something that Ida emulated later in life.

Ida made her faith her own at Hillcrest. The 85 miles kept a good distance between the rock of faith Ida stood on through her adolescents. As she matured to a young woman she developed a hunger and love for the Lord. Ida developed a robust personal relationship with Jesus during Hillcrest, something that would steady her as she embarked on a lifestyle of service.

Ida found herself pursuing teaching after Hillcrest. She traveled to Alaska and a country school in North Dakota before finding herself back at Hillcrest in 1928, a six year break from her time at Hillcrest as a student. Many say that her greatest contributions at Hillcrest came not in her dynamic classroom instruction, but in her care as a loving mother in the dormitories. She held the position of head dean for over a decade. Many say she was very firm, with one look from her piercing eyes able to wither any recalcitrant fellow or self-willed girl. But the students knew that in her heart she also held an intense, God-given love for the students, and they knew it. One student who attended Hillcrest during that time said, “She gave of herself unstintingly in long and exhausting hours of counseling students, expending herself as few ever have done, and left a lasting imprint on us as only one with a mother love could.” Goplen was forced to resign her post at Hillcrest in exhaustion by doctor’s orders. After a time at home recuperating she went on to engage in visitation ministry, where she held over 36,000 visitation sessions during the Second World War.

Alumni Reflect on Hillcrest Experience

Swanhild Algaard attended Hillcrest in the 1940s. Her recollection of memories penned in the Hillcrest Beacon in 1943 mark time honored traditions that started with move-in day and welcome week. Algaard walked into a school culture that was operating for nearly three decades before her Hillcrest experience. Some sixty years later, Hillcrest students are still experiencing the emotions and joy that made an eternal impact on Algaard.

Swanhild sits in an apple basket as a group of friends try to lift her during Hillcrest's campus cleanup day.

Swanhild sits in an apple basket as a group of friends try to lift her during Hillcrest's campus cleanup day.

It was way back in the fall when we first stood in line to register. Some of us stood there with great big lumps in our throats and felt as if we were only hands and feet. Then after registration we went up to our bare rooms, threw ourselves on the bed and cried oceans of tears. After a while a friendly senior came in and persuaded us to come out and meet some of the nicest girls we have ever seen, and before long we began to feel right at home.

Then there was that bewildering first day of school, when we inquired anxiously in what classroom English I and Algebra were held. At first, our marks were rather low, but soon began to climb up the ladder, and we found our rightful place. After a few months some of us had an entirely new experience. We were sought and found by the Master, Jesus Christ, and we went joyfully forth to serve Him by winning our unsaved friends to Him. Our lives were now changed, and we saw things from an entirely new perspective. Months flew by altogether too swiftly. One day came graduation and the end of the most profitable and pleasant year we had hitherto experienced.

In three months we were back again. As we drove up to the entrance of the school friends came running from all directions and fond embraces that followed were long and hard. We were sure of ourselves now, and we looked forward to the teachers’ reception, students’ reception, and attending the Junior-Senior banquet. We went to the socials with gusto and came up to our rooms brimming with happiness.

We lively youngsters weren’t immune to the bites of a very young little love bug. Our dean was swamped on Saturday nights with requests for girls to step out with some young fellow. She smiled to herself and said “yes” to most of our requests, though to some she gave a bit of sound advice to wait a little longer.

Remember those outdoor suppers we had in the early fall, roasting wieners and apples? We gathered around the fire after supper for testimonies and chorus singing until the shadows began creeping in.

Students pose by the front steps of Hillcrest before jogging to the back of the Castle to toboggan on Hillcrest's campus in the 1940s.

Students pose by the front steps of Hillcrest before jogging to the back of the Castle to toboggan on Hillcrest's campus in the 1940s.

When winter came we went out on the hills and had skiing and tobogganing parties. After those afternoons of fun we came traipsing into the dining hall full of spirit but empty in stomach.

But life wasn’t all joy. Remember how we worried when our schoolmates were ill or when accidents occurred? And then remember how we agonized over tests, getting up at 4am to cram until we felt as though our heads would burst?

As seniors we no doubt felt superiority over any other class that ever graduated. We were the ones who smiled patiently when the questions rained upon us as to where to go and what to do. How we bustled around looking important for the benefit of those younger than we. It was with a touch of sadness that we entered May because we realized that the happiest years of our lives were drawing to a close. Every minute was precious. There were long hikes along the river and over the hills to unexplored places. There were the all-important senior class meetings when we sat behind closed doors and seriously considered our class motto, song, announcements, and pictures. There were chats with teachers, for now we could see things with a mature light. Often it was weeks and months after we left that we were able to appreciate those gentle talks.

This photo of young men at Hillcrest in the 1940s shows new habits built inside Hillcrest's Castle.

This photo of young men at Hillcrest in the 1940s shows new habits built inside Hillcrest's Castle.

We made new friendships, had new experiences, and formed new habits. We found that new desires were being born within us; we were growing up. Throughout the year Christ drew us closer, and we began growing spiritually too. But since all good things must come to an end, that year did too. Too soon we packed our grips and headed once more for home. It was the happiest and most blessed years of our young lives, passed quickly by. We thank God for the privilege we have had in going to a school of this kind.

-Swanhild Aalgaard H’43

Why Christian Education: A Time-tested Perspective

The following is an excerpt from the Faith and Fellowship in 1975, written by then professor Omar Gjerness:

Some years ago in one of my parishes, I had an interesting discussion with a man who was an educator. He objected to christian education on the ground that he thought young people were so utterly protected from the ideas of the world that they ended up over-protected. He felt that when they once came out into a hostile world, they had not had any opposition and had not placed their roots very deeply, and as a result had a rather fragile brand of Christianity.

This is not an isolated opinion. In my ministry, I have run into many people who have shared the same idea. There are undoubtedly those in our Synod who would hesitate to send their children to Hillcrest because they share this attitude. I think that the argument is strong enough so that it demands a thoughtful look at it to determine at what point it is valid and at what point it is not.

There are four responses that occur to me:

My first response is that the atmosphere at a Christian school may be wholesome, but it is not sterile. This is true at Hillcrest as it is at many other Christian institutions. There are involvements with the community, and many of these involvements include people who do not share Christian faith. Not every student who comes to Lutheran Brethren Schools is a Christian. In the dormitory, there are many of the young people who do not have a personal faith with God, and there are very close contacts and very close friendships that are made with these people. Some of these high school students will actually revolt against a Christian atmosphere. Whereas we endeavor to have a wholesome and Christ-centered atmosphere in the classroom, in devotional life, in prayer days and in chapel and church contacts, that does not mean that young people are never subjected to ideas that are not Christian. In fact, I am sure that there are many parents who would wish that the atmosphere were sterile rather than just wholesome.

To me the strongest argument, however, is occasioned by watching my wife in her spring planting. My wife raises many begonias; they are a beautiful plant, but in some respects, a fragile plant. While the snow is still on the ground, my wife will get her begonia bulbs and plant them in pots and place them in a window inside of the house where they are protected and shielded from the storm, from the snows, from the cold, and from the hazards of the raw weather of spring and late winter. Later, when they have taken root and have developed strength, she will plant them outdoors. Sometimes she discovers that she has done this too early, and if the frost occurs after the bulbs have been planted, some of them may not be hardy enough to survive.

The lesson that I have learned from this is that young people, like tender plants, need to be sheltered and protected until they have gained root that is deep enough to withstand some of the storms of life itself. There are undoubtedly many people who save in order to give the young people a Christian education at a Christian college. I have heard Christian educators who indicate that for many that is way too late. Concepts have already been developed. Seeds have already been planted. Faith has already, in some instances, been destroyed; and for many young people, college is too late to rescue their thinking and to channel it into Christina patterns and forms. Undoubtedly, there is a time in life when young people, like my wife’s begonias, must be transplanted into a world less protected. My concern is that we should be sure that their roots are deep enough to withstand the tempest before they are thrust into unnecessarily hostile contracts.

My third response is related to this. Many of your kids, in fact most of them, come from Christian homes where there is a wholesome atmosphere and where their church background is also very substantial What we fail to reckon with is the fact that because of school contacts, television, radio, books that are read, the great weight of influence upon our young people is secular and not Christian, and many fail to realize what proportionately heavy influence the world has on our young people in spite of all that we may do to lead and to direct them into the Christian faith. I think we should rejoice in the possibility of having a school where the majority influence would be positive and wholesome rather than where the influence for Christ becomes only a “sometime thing”.

Another very strong argument for a Christian academy is the fact that there is a good deal of peer pressure at the high school level. Many times our Christian young people come from communities and schools where there is a very small gathering of Christian kids. I am sure that before coming to Hillcrest, some of our young people have been the only professing Christian in their high school. A young person at this level may become terribly lonesome. One fo the most wholesome factors of Hillcrest Academy is undoubtedly the factor of a strong contact between young people where they live under the same roof, attend the same classes, worship in the same church, eat meals at the same table and create a relationship of brother and sister in Christ that becomes a very durable relationship. This is very evident when you see our homecomings and reunions and you see the cohesion that exists within the student body many many years after they have graduated. Attend one of our graduations, and you can sense immediately the depth of rapport that exists between these young people at a time when they know that their relationships will from henceforth be less intimate and only occasional. I think one of the strongest contributions that we have to give, is that we gather young people where they can fellowship with one another on the level of their Christian faith, and where they do not have to feel the stigma of a minority position.

Is a Christian academy a hot-house? Is Hillcrest a hot-house? I would admit to this title. I think it is a plus when we are able to shelter and shield young people front some of the contaminating influences of the world until their faith has and time to take root to deepen. It would be a foolish nation which would send soldiers into battle before they had had some training. It would be a foolish gardener who would plant tender flowers before the hard frosts of late winter had ceased. Our young people are thrown into the battled of life altogether too early. Let us be sure they have had sufficient training, root and foundation in the Christian faith before it is necessary for them to face the hostile world.

Hillcrest AcademyComment
Alumni Gather for Comet Classic Tournament

In nearly thirty years of coaching Gregg Preston has not only impacted lives but started deep enjoyment in growing in the Lord using Basketball. That was evident in what is being talked about as an annual tournament of Comet alumni basketball players gathering during the Christmas vacation. It was dubbed the Comet Classic, and brought in more than thirty alumni to watch and play basketball during Hillcrest’s Christmas vacation.

There was more talking than game planning before the games on December 28 and 29 inside the Comet gym. Players from Hillcrest’s 2000 second place in state team gathered with the 2001 third place team. Conversations didn’t center on Basketball or the old days. Discussions centered with how kids are doing and what is new in the workplace. Younger alumni shared how college is going, what campus ministries they’re involved in, and some of the challenging things that are happening on their campus. But when the laces tightened the focus shifted to a game the 30+ alumni who gathered knew by heart, instructed by Coach Preston to approach the court with special attention.


Players from the mid-2000s stormed the court first. Daniel Nersten joined up with Micah Jones in a flashback game where the Comet varsity team shook off the memories of watching the tandem. The current varsity squad found great competition in the Comets of yesteryear. They worked to break down defense that was smothering and aggressive, the kind that has been a staple of Hillcrest basketball for more than three decades.

The late game on Friday night was controlled by the early 2000s, with Daniel Berge and Ryan Garvin teaming up with JP Stender and Nate Jensen. One of the players Coach Preston first mentored, Evan Newman, joined the team to bolster the roster. The older decades showed why they earned bids to the state tournament, playing defense like they were in high school while shouting out commands to teammates. The Berge/Garvin tandem faced-off against Daniel Tungseth, Kyler Newman, and Andy Stender. To match the quickness of guys ten years their junior, they employed more recent Comets in Sean McGuire, Zak Zwiers, Daniel Preston, Sam Isaac, and Sam Ihrke.

Saturday morning offered two games for each squad in the round robin tournament. After the first two games the President's office provided a sandwich lunch for spectators and players, adding to the excitement of being Comets watching favorite players from decades past.

The oldest group of players, those from the early 2000s with Evan Newman, won all their games, winning the first Comet Classic. A number of the older players celebrated the idea of coming back to Hillcrest to play basketball. Many drew comparisons to the formative years of the Hillcrest Invitational Tournament (HIT), when church teams around the area would unite to play in a formal tournament against the Hillcrest varsity squad.

Parents commented on the joy of watching brothers from different years play together again. One parent mentioned how fun it was to watch Comet teams spanning three decades play seamlessly together. It was a testament to a Coach who has taught Hillcrest players to love the game of basketball and celebrate the way God uses it to unite and inspire players and fans alike.

Student Profile | Debora Abate

Hot coals filled the fire pit trench in the concrete floor of the boys dorm patio. Kebabs sizzled on the grate. She looks between her African, Norwegian and American friends, effortlessly switching between languages. Debora Abate is a true testament to the power if bilinguality.

Born in Ethiopia to full-blooded Ethiopian parents, Debora considers herself Norwegian. Her father leapt at a chance to move from Africa to Norway by way of a job change. She is fluent in Norwegian, Amharic Ethiopian, and English. Amharic is an official language of Ethiopia.

Debora Abate is a planner. After forming new friendships at the patio party, Debra unveils how she thinks in the Student Union with friends bustling behind. “I like to have control, and I like to plan ahead,” she asserts, smiling. On the subject of deciding to come to Hillcrest through the partnership with the Danielsen school, she reminisced, “When I was in ninth grade I started to try to find high schools. Then, I met Robel Mazengia.”

Robel is familiar to many at Hillcrest. He attended Hillcrest as a Danielsen student a few years ago. Robel’s glowing words about Hillcrest, both before and after his experience, led Debora to plan for her own trip to the little school in Fergus Falls, Minnesota as part of the Danielsen partnership with Hillcrest.

Debora’s parents are Christian converts, but more specifically, they are Protestants. Ethiopia is primarily a nation of traditional religion, embodied by the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Alongside the Trinity, Ethiopian Orthodox teaching venerates saints, angels, and other spiritual beings. In the past, Protestants were persecuted in Ethiopia, but now conflicts have cooled, leaving two very different modes of Christian worship alongside each other. Debora’s involvement in church is growing at Hillcrest, built on practices she developed in Norway. “I went to church every Sunday. I went to youth group, I was on the worship team.”

With friends chatting at tables behind her, Debora leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand. She started contemplating her faith and how she is growing at Hillcrest. “I think I am learning to be more independent and make my own choices,” she says thoughtfully. “When I was young, when I had to go to church, I had to go to church.” Debora says she is becoming more mature spiritually at Hillcrest, working to be more intentional with her relationship with God.

In some ways, Hillcrest fits perfectly with the picture Robel gave Debora. In others, it’s very different. “The people here are more engaging than in Norway. In Norway, there’s lots of people, but they won’t talk to you if they don’t know you...nobody talks to each other on buses. I’ve made a lot of friends here, more than I thought I would.”

Jackson NordickComment