35-year effort bears fruit for ELCA founders

As Harold Grove sits in his living room at the top of Victory Drive, off east Fifth Street in Lebanon, he is surrounded by the fruits of his labors, driven by resolution and faith.
Around his comfortable home sprawls the 23-acre campus of East Linn Christian Academy, which celebrated its 35th anniversary Saturday, July 14.
“I feel blessed,” he says, as his wife Dorothy, nearby, nods. “I feel like God has honored our efforts.”
Grove, 87, is the founder of ELCA, which was the outcome of a long series of experiences he had in public and then private education, he said.
Grove started his career as an educator in Lacomb in 1959 after earning a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Oregon State University.
After a year he moved to the Lebanon district, where he spent the next 17 years teaching middle school and upper elementary grades and, eventually, coordinating the science and math programs for the district, and directing the counseling services.
He said he was bothered by changes that occurred over his years in the district, particularly restrictions on teachers being able to openly discuss their own beliefs, such as Christianity.
“When I first started out, you could have a silent prepare-for-lunch time, you could give out Gideon Bibles, you could put up bulletin boards for Christmas, for certain holidays, you could read the Scriptures,” he said. “All that was taken away.”
One teacher, he recalled, was taken to task for having a Bible on her desk.
“Right here in Lebanon.”
In 1976 he developed myasthenia gravis, a condition that produces double vision.
“So my classroom of 33 students became 66 students.” he said. “And that was a little hard to do, so I played with resigning.
“I was disillusioned with how I was able to teach when you couldn’t have your Bible on your desk. That didn’t go too good.”
His physician, Dr. Frank Gerard, suggested that he teach half-time, but Grove said the district superintendent wasn’t interested.
“So I went home and the telephone rang.”
It was the principal of Albany Private School, now Albany Christian School.
“He said, ‘Would you consider a half-day position?’” Grove said. “I decided maybe that was God’s will for me.”
His daughter Ila, next to youngest of his five children, which also included four boys – Daniel, Charlie, Alvin and Bruce, was attending Salem Academy, then the only Christian high school in the area.
But, Grove said, local pastors were getting interested in the idea of Christian education.
Santiam Christian had been established in Corvallis and Sweet Home had a Christian school start-up. Fairview Mennonite Church near Albany had begun a school, as had another small church in Lebanon. A small school called Berean Christian School had been sprung up in Brownsville.
All of them except for Santiam Christian, he said, used Accelerated Christian Education, a learn-at-your-own-pace curriculum that allowed parents to serve as teachers in a modified classroom setting.
After a year at Albany Private, Grove said, he was contacted by the pastor of Crowfoot Baptist Church, near his home, about starting an ACE school, and decided to go for it. Grove stayed at the Crowfoot school for the next four years, though he had some reservations about the ACE approach, he said.
“It was good for the purposes of churches that were too small to do anything else; it met a need. But that style of teaching didn’t suit me. It’s not my type of teaching.”
Then the Crowfoot school shut down.
“I felt responsible because there were quite a few kids at Crowfoot,” Grove recalled. He considered some other options, including teaching at Santiam Christian, for which he had served as a board member, but he didn’t really like any of them.
He decided his best recourse was to start a school and discovered that the Fairview School building was available. Grove made arrangements with the Lebanon School District to rent it.
“My main goal was to expose children to God’s word,” he said, explaining his motivation.
In the fall of 1982 East Linn Christian Academy opened its doors with 32 students ranging from grades five through 12.
Things moved fast, Grove said. The student body grew from 32 in the first year to 120 in Year Two and 170 by the third year.
“The attraction of the type of education we were doing and, probably, the availability of a gymnasium – all those things ended up sending kids to our school at Fairview,” he said.
Things soon reached the point where the school had outgrown the Fairview building and had spilled over into the small church building across the street, on the northwest corner of Fairview and McDowell Creek.
A woman in his church, First Baptist, offered to buy a modular building, which was purchased and moved onto the Fairview campus. But things still were tight.
At that point, Sweet Home School District decided to close its Liberty School and agreed to rent it to ELCA. After a year or two, the district decided to sell – for $100,000.
“In those days, that was bigger than it is nowadays,” Grove said. “We didn’t see how, but we decided to take it on. The money came in surprisingly fast and we purchased the Liberty building.
“We were blessed. It kept growing.”
The Groves had purchased 100 acres of property on a hill off 5th Street when he had begun teaching in Lacomb. In 1994 they decided to donate some land to ELCA for a new campus.
More help poured in. Two local farm families donated “significant” funds to build a shop and vocational building.
Little things kept happening that encouraged them.
They needed water for the new campus and Grove called local well driller Chuck Nugent.
“He says, ‘Where you want your first well?’
“I said, ‘We only want one well.’
“He says, ‘The way the water’s been around here, you’re going to need five to supply your school.’ Where do you want it?
“I said, ‘Out of the way, where it’s not going to cause trouble.’”
Grove said they started drilling and “hit all kinds of water,” enough that they installed an 8-inch casing because there was that much water coming out of the ground.
“It was a very adequate water supply,” he said.
The Victory Campus, as it is called, was initially limited to high-schoolers, but in the last 20 years a gymnasium has been built and various other facilities have been erected.
“The baseball field is still in progress,” Grove noted, dryly. Currently, all grades are at the Victory campus, and ELCA sold the Liberty campus to People Involved in Education for its Home Charter School in 2009.
When he retired in 1997, ELCA had 397 students, he said. He’d served in a wide variety of capacities.
“I was superintendent – and whatever else doesn’t get done.” Grove said. “Actually, I was just a facilitator.”
He credited ELCA staff members at all levels for the progress the school has made.
“It takes all of a staff to make a school work. And salaries were at a minimum, so it took dedicated people to fill those spots.”
He noted two in particular, teachers Cyndy Parker and Carolyn Reister, who have been with East Linn “almost from the beginning.”
Current Supt. Janelle Detweiler, he noted, was a student at both Crowfoot and then at ELCA when it opened at the Fairview campus.
None of his own children attended East Linn Christian, though Ila taught kindergarten and Spanish there briefly. But five of his grandchildren have graduated from the school and others have attended here and there.
Dorothy, who worked for 23 years in the media centers at Seven Oaks Middle School and Lebanon High School, also did the bookkeeping for ELCA “until we got large enough to hire someone,” she said. She retired a year before her husband.
The Groves say they’re thankful to see their labors bear fruit.
“I’ve seen kids serving God on every continent except Antarctica – I don’t think we’ve had anybody go there,” Grove said, glancing across the room at Dorothy.
“Most of the kids turned out well.”
“Some of them turned their lives around and are pastors now,” Dorothy said.
Grove added, “I think there are a lot of people in full-time ministry who aren’t pastors or missionaries. I guess we’re all in full-time ministry.
“When you see them serving God and training their children to serve God, that’s a blessing.”
After a contemplative pause, he added: “A lot of very fine people have been added to our community that honor God and are respectable people.”