Centennial Reflection: 1928 - A Year of Influence
William Windahl graduated from the Lutheran Bible School in 1928. Five years later Windahl would join the staff as a music director and he and his wife would set a standard for Hillcrest teachers of the future.
Windahl was a part of a transformative time at Hillcrest. One year after his graduation, Bible school staff wrote of Windahls class that a shift was underway after a decade of ministry to high school students.
Lutheran Brethren Schools (LBS) included a seminary, bible school, and as of 1916 a Christian high school. In 1929 officials noted that they had a Christian high school with an exceptional Bible program. Increasing high school enrollment dwarfed the Bible school and seminary. Clearly Lutheran Brethren Schools was scratching an itch in the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.
Windahl felt called to this formative ministry, and in 1932 he joined the staff in the Music Department. While Windahl was a student at LBS, he watched synodical leaders burn the school's mortgage that was a proverbial ball and chain on the school's ministry.
As the roaring 20's turned to the dark days of the Depression, Windahl and his young wife watched as their beloved school fell on hard times. December 15, 1931 is a pin in Hillcrest's historical timeline that reveals a unique character of the school.
LBS met with synodical leaders for a day of prayer as snow beat against the windows of the school building in Grand Forks. In the quietness of bowed heads the Spirit of the Lord met the group leading the school. Rev. Joseph Levang wrote in his historical account The Church of the Lutheran Brethren 1900-1975 that, "The Lord spoke strangely and strongly that day." Several underpaid teachers, with months of back pay drooping their shoulders lower in the meeting, looked to the school and resolved to voluntarily cut salaries to what Levang calls a, "scant living wage."
Others in the meeting ventured to local banks to draw money from meager savings accounts, thumbing-out paper bills bearing the heads of former leaders of the United States to sacrificially lead the school through desperate times. Levang writes that every teacher reaffirmed their willingness to continue teaching the formative minds enrolled at LBS, knowing there was no guaranteed salary.
The coming years revealed a character unique to the LBS. Levang writes that the teachers took salary cuts and worked extra long hours to guide the school through the financial ruts. Reverend E.M. Strom went off school salary as he continued his post leading the institution, living off a pastor's income in preaching and shepherding a local congregation while teaching a full load at LBS. Three female teachers, Miss Ida Goplen, Miss Irene Anderson, and Miss Leona Davis (later known as Mrs. C.F. Erickson) annually cancelled a part of their salary.
With a pinched pocketbook, Windahl linked arms with his wife, following their friends in answering God's call to LBS. Mrs. Windahl taught a series of years with no pay, resolving to live on meager rations as she and her husband followed their call and commitment after the December prayer meeting in 1931.
Levang notes that from 1932-35 the staff at the school was promised $17,387 collectively. The staff turned around and cancelled a total of $11,997.44. From 1933-34 the staff cancelled more than they were promised, forgiving a total of $5,871 when they were promised $4,776.32 over the same school term.
Levang notes that many sincere Christians called for the closing of the High School department, what is now Hillcrest Academy, to keep LBS afloat. It is because of the Lord's work in the hearts of Hillcrest's staff in the mid-30's that called teachers and deans to work with little to no pay, often giving back more money to the school more than they earned.
1928 was a year of influence. It marked a celebration of canceled debt on the school mortgage, and the hiring of committed instructors who would later endure financial difficulty to forge Hillcrest Academy through hard times. Those years forged a character in Hillcrest staff. One that is sacrificial in teaching and living to point young minds to Jesus Christ. To God be glory for the ministry of Hillcrest Academy both in the past and continuing to the present.