When Buck Creek burst its banks in 1962 and flooded the Christian Reformed Church, it was a surprising way to christen the two-room school about to open inside.
Teacher Don van Polen remembers bumping down the dusty gravel road to Houston that summer, only to find his new class basking in three inches of mud.
By September, the mud was out and a flood of children came in—47 of them, in Grades 1 to 6.
Reta Veenstra, then Miss Vander Kwaack, says her students behaved very well in that little class, even though it was crowded.
“They were all so agreeable,” she says, smiling. “I never had any problems.”
One year later, Veenstra remembers how proudly her students were when they finally stepped into the squeaky clean classes of the newly built Houston Christian School.
“The children were careful not to make any marks or scratches,” she said in Stones for the Lord, a tribute to the school’s first 25 years.
“I remember little Angie vanderPloeg—she couldn’t wear her nice new black shoes because they left black marks on the floor.”
Today, a whole half century later, 100 pairs of feet cross that floor each day.
Gathered from Houston’s Christian Reformed, Canadian Reformed, Baptist, Pentecostal and Catholic churches, the students begin their mornings with devotionals and finish each month with an all-school song and prayer.
Pete Lieuwen, a long-time school president, says the school answers a need for Christian education that he and many other young Dutch parents felt when they first settled here in the 1940s.
“We were brought up that way,” he said, noting that Holland provides full public funding to Christian schools.
“We strongly believe that God is present in every subject of our lives.”
Early on, the B.C. government gave no funding at all to Christian education. For the 23, mostly farming families who started the fundraising in 1950, building Houston Christian was a real challenge.
Retired teacher Reta Veenstra.
Lieuwen remembers what wages were like at the time—$30 a month for a farmhand who had room and board, and just 70 cents an hour for loggers who paid more than $2 in daily camp fees.
It’s a measure of how dedicated the early Houston Christian School Society was that it took 12 years to raise the $22,976 they needed to build a four-room school.
“It was always nip and tuck, to keep it going,” says Lieuwen.
Everyone pitched in. Lieuwen remembers how, in the early days, he and other parents drove students back and forth to school.
“Of course, it didn’t matter in those days—you could put six in the car, or eight, or ten,” he said, laughing.
Today, public busses pick up Houston Christian students as well. “That was a big help,” Lieuwen says.
Seatbelt laws weren’t the only rules that used to work differently in the school’s growing years.
By the time his own children were at the school, Lieuwen said, “One day, I was working in my store and Mr. Norman Groot came in and said, ‘What’s your son doing up on the school roof?'”
As it turns out, his misbehaving son had been sent out for a favourite punishment of Principal John Bron—a thoughtful detention alone on the roof with a desk.
“It’s too bad he never took a picture of that,” said Lieuwen, laughing.
However bratty his son may have been that day, Bron seemed to do the trick—he’s now a math teacher in Abbotsford.
In 1977, the B.C. government started funding about half the tuition of each student at Houston Christian, a move that allowed the school leaders to open Grades 9 and 10. Senior classes and a school gym followed later, but only after lots of fundraising, such as the Willing Workers winning apple pies.
Mark Smaill joined the Houston Christian school board just over a year ago after the RCMP officer and his young family to Houston.
Smaill said he appreciates all the hard work that went before, and as a follower of Christ, he says he is glad Houston has a school where his children are raised the same way.
“Everything that’s taught in the church and in our home is also taught at school,” he says.
Smaill is now getting set to host a May 25 open house reunion at Houston Christian, and the May 26 dinner and silent auction where all the adults in the school community will celebrate a 50-year achievement.
Looking ahead, Principal John Siebenga says, he would love to see the school grow, and not just in terms of numbers.
For senior students, Siebenga said the school is working towards a dedicated fine arts and music department, as well as more apprenticeships for students keen on trades.
For the youngest students, Siebenga said a pre-school is something that parents and teachers would like to start planning.
“Houston Christian School has been a positive influence in the community, and that’s another thing we want to continue to have,” he added.
“I see the school branching out and being much more community-minded in that way.”