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    Missional From Day One

    This history is adapted from the writing of Joseph H. Levang and Steve Hoffbeck.

    What is now Hillcrest Academy began in 1915 as the high school program of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. The Lutheran Brethren Church was active in missionary work, having sent out missionaries to China in 1902, and its educational mission was to train pastors and missionaries in its seminary and to educate church workers in the Bible School.

    Lutheran Brethren Schools Building in Wahpeton, ND

    By 1912, the “need for a high school in connection with the Bible School began to be felt more and more,” and certain individuals of the Church voiced strong demands for it at the annual national conventions.  The public schools educated all students only through the eighth grade in that era.  If a young person desired to get a high school diploma, he or she would have to enroll at a town that had such a program.

    In 1915, the church authorized the addition of freshman and sophomore high school classes at the Wahpeton, ND school; and these classes began in the fall of 1916, marking the official beginning of what later became known as Hillcrest Lutheran Academy.

    In 1917 Bible School President E.M Broen recommended to the Lutheran Brethren annual convention that a full four year high school be offered as a separate department of the Bible School as soon as possible. Further, he recommended that moral young people who might not have come to a conscious life in God be accepted into the high school department.  

    The time has come when a full four-year high school is a necessity. Many parents are pleading for a Christian high school at the Bible school, and they want it open for their own sons and daughters who may not have come to a clear assurance of salvation... The entrance requirements (should) be broadend to admit such young people who may not have come to a conscious and clear assurance of life in God but who are moral young people...To send these spiritually hungry young people into the worldly high schools would take them away from Godly influences and could, indeed, bring about their spiritual downfall.”
    — President E.M. Broen

    The decision to offer a full four-year program created a crisis. The Wahpeton, N.D. building was too small to handle the increased number of students that a high school would attract.  There were not enough dormitory rooms to house high-school students and Bible School students in that location.  The school administrators were forced to find a bigger building---either in Wahpeton or elsewhere.

    Lutheran Brethren Schools Building in Grand Forks, ND

    A larger building became available in 1918.  Church leaders made a deal with H.H. Aaker, a businessman in Grand Forks, 120 miles north of Wahpeton.  He owned Aaker’s Business College and was willing to trade his large school building for the smaller Lutheran Bible School building.  Aaker’s building had been built in 1891 and had sufficient classroom space and dormitory space for the anticipated needs of the combined Lutheran Brethren high school and Bible College. 

    For nearly two decades the work of the school carried on in its new home in Grand Forks despite enduring intense financial hardship. The Lord faithfully provided and the doors remained open. However, by 1933 it became clear that the current facility would require extensive renovations in order to continue operating, or a new home for the school must be found. 

    In 1935 a unique opportunity arose to resolve the school's facility issues. The beautiful and spacious former facility of the Park Region Luther College in Fergus Falls, MN had become available for a "very reasonable" price. The college had carried significant debt from expansion and was unable to weather the financial turmoil of the depression. In 1932, Park Region Luther College was closed and its operations incorporated into Concordia College in Moorhead, MN.  

    The building was made of red brick and had been built on a hilltop in the southeastern portion of Fergus Falls.  Four-and-one-half stories in height, with roof spires reaching even higher in the sky, the brick structure had been an architectural landmark in the area since its construction in 1901.  The peak of the pencil-point spire on top of the building’s belfry measured about seventy feet off the ground, soaring far higher than any other building in the city.

    A Fergus Falls newspaperman wrote a description of the building’s beauty of form and setting:


    Park Region Luther College Interiors, circa 1902

    Looming up from the river-bordered eminence, constructed in accordance with the most up-to-date plans, faced on all sides with Menominee red pressed brick, and virtually five stories in height—-the basement being partially above ground and finished throughout as a full story—-it is the largest and most complete college building in the northwest.”
    — Fergus Falls Weekly Journal, 1902

    Unsure of how the Lord would ultimately provide the necessary funds, the decision was prayerfully made to go forward with the purchase of the Fergus Falls campus. Local community members saw the good sense in bringing the school to Fergus Falls and contributed generously to the cause of purchasing and refurbishing the vacant college. Classes in the remodeled school began with opening exercises on September 17, 1935, with the formal opening of the thirty-second year of the Bible School and the nineteenth year of the high school.  President Broen delivered a short address, pointing to the wise promise found in a verse of Psalm 34:  “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.”

    Since 1935, the "Castle on the Hill," as it is lovingly referred to, has undergone many renovations to make it a safe and modern learning & living environment. However, preservation of the classic aesthetic of the original architecture has remained a priority. 



    The school got its name as Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in 1948.

    In the aftermath of World War II---which had ended just three years previously, the school’s leaders wanted to renew the mission of the high school in the dawn of a new era of hope after the tragedies of that deadly war.

    A graduate of the high school department, class of 1947, came to the rescue.  A young man came up with the right name, one that was really wanted by the church people. 

    Robert Overgaard, who had been born in Dalton, Minnesota, twenty miles south of Fergus Falls, and who had grown up in Fergus Falls, had an inspiration.  His father, Gust Overgaard, was a carpenter who had been hired to remodel the Old Castle school building after its purchase in 1935, and the height and majesty of the building held its sway over young Robert as his father’s workmen improved it on the outside and on the inside. 

    The name of Hillcrest Lutheran Academy has endured and, while the old building looks much the same, the legacy of the school, through its three thousand-plus graduates continues to be written through the significant lives of its alumni. Being established with a missional charge, Hillcrest continues to prepare students for a life of significance with a Biblically-based Christ-centered education.


    Common Core Challenges

    "The ancients knew that in order for men to be truly free, they must have a liberal education that includes the study of literature, history, mathematics, science, music and art. Yes, man is made for work, but he’s also made for so much more… Education should be about the highest things. We should study these things of the stars, plant cells, Mozart’s requium… not simply because they’ll get us into the right college or into the right line of work. Rather, we should study these noble things because they can tell us who we are, why we’re here…"
    ~Professor Daniel B. Coupland~ 

    There are a number of dangers with the Common Core standards being rolled out in schools across America. Like the danger of taking away 1+1+1=Everything. This is the arithmetic employed by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his most popular book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Solzhenitsyn explains how one character, during one day in one prison camp explains every day of every person in all of the camps employed by Soviet Russia during the horrific trials of their concentration camps.

    A work visited in Mr. Gregg Preston's history course, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich describes the suffering and degradation of the Soviet camps. Solzhenitsyn works to depict suffering in terms of physical deprivation, working to give perspective to those who haven't experienced the debilitating realities of a concentration camp by famously noting, "Can a man who's warm understand one who's freezing?" Through Ivan students are introduced to aspects of suffering as the author pinpoints suffering is not only physical and psychological, but also spiritual. 

    Solzhenitsyn paints a clear picture of how the Soviets sought to breakdown prisoners through their regimented, regulated prison camp practices. His understated ending of Ivancloses, "Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. The extra three were for leap years". This documentation of the Soviet regimented camp shows Stalin's Communist regime's design to breakdown individual dignity and human solidarity.

    However, Solzhenitsyn introduces an anchoring character into Ivan's life. Alyoshka is an honest man who draws strength from the New Testament he has hidden in his cell wall. Alyoshka is the only person who gives positive explanation to Ivan's experience as he states, "Be glad you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul."

    From Solzhenitsyn's book students understand that suffering is a physical and spiritual issue, and from Ivan's example we see the resilience of life supported not from a physical strength, but a foundation of Spiritual assuredness given by Jesus Christ.

    Solzhenitsyn's book is a piece of literature that Mr. Preston's class interacts with over the course of the year. A small example of the larger mission in providing a Biblically-based liberal arts education. As noted in the video above, literature is in danger through the Common Core standards being rolled out across the nation. Hillcrest is taking a firm stand against the standards and looks forward to providing students with a cohesive education that includes classic literature pieces that will drive students deeper into life.  

    Hillcrest challenges students to think about the reality of God for both the world and themselves. Using the Bible as the cornerstone, teachers and staff develop meaningful study of physical realities and the deep spiritual consequences God instills into the heart of man. It's what makes high school at Hillcrest about so much more than a diploma.


    Purpose in 2nd Semester

    Principal Isaac really enjoys his position at Hillcrest. He especially loves the second semester. Hearing student testimonies and watching life-long friendships solidify are a few things God brings to the faculty, staff and students at Hillcrest.