MARSHALL - Some of the worship songs that students and staff at Marshall Area Christian School sang on a regular basis, like "Shine Jesus Shine" and "Our God Is An Awesome God," filled the gymnasium Saturday at the school as Principal Steve Harrison led the school's praise band.
The Marshall Area Christian School had a 25th anniversary celebration Saturday, which included introductions of former students, parents, teachers, board members and founders, a short program and a video presentation detailing the first quarter century of the school.
MACS opened its doors in fall of 1988 with grades 1-4. Russ Oglesby, known as "Mr. O," was one of the original teachers.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Marshall Area Christian School teacher Karen De Graaf shares her appreciation for fellow teacher Russ Oglesby, far right, as the Rev. Bernie Wing looks on during the school’s 25th anniversary celebration Saturday.
"It was 16 students, some of them part time because they were coming off homeschooling," Oglesby said.
Mabel McKighy, a retired schoolteacher, volunteered to help with the first-graders, while Oglesby tought the older kids. But that was only for a short time, Oglesby said.
"I knew I couldn't do all four (grades)," Oglesby said.
Merrilee Anderson was hired to teach first and second grade.
"We would do the basic core subjects in the morning," he said. Then the students would gather together for thematic units in the afternoon.
"We might do a unit on loyalty (for example)," Oglesby said. The kids would do art and history and maybe some math, he said.
Anderson said she enjoyed seeing the kids learning to read and working with the parents.
"It was a good environment to teach in," Anderson said. She taught at MACS for three years. Now, her two sons, Lee and Matthew, attend the school. She said she wanted to send them to a Christian environment. "It was a privilege to have taught with Russ."
Oglesby said the school had a lot of volunteers and parents who helped out. He remembered Cile Suelflow, Vonnie Tillemans and Patsy Nuese helping out.
"Without them, it wouldn't have been a school," Oglesby said.
MACS was in rented space, starting out at what is now Radiant Life Church. And because it was a church building, Oglesby said they had to put away school stuff every Wednesday and Friday night.
"The kids would help, they got good at moving tables, books, tubs," he said. "It was kind of like school in a box."
Because of space, MACS moved to the Assembly of God Church on Bruce Street in the early '90s.
"It was all of these families working together as one family," Oglesby said. "There's still a focus on character." He said that Biblical principles are integrated into various subjects.
Tamar Knochenmus attended Marshall Area Christian School from 1992-1999. She said her class was small with just a few students.
"When I was in seventh and eighth grade, we had two teachers," she said. "So much has changed from when I was in school."
Knochenmus said moving into the current location brought in more opportunities for the students. The kids now have lockers to put their stuff in; she remembers carrying around tubs with her school supplies.
In 1994, the campuses split. The elementary grades stayed at Assembly of God, and the junior high moved to what was Grace Life Church on Camden Drive. Oglesby said MACS added grades each year, and its first graduating class was in 1996 with two graduates. MACS was a K-12 until 1999. The school moved into its current location, the former East Side Elementary building, in 2006.
Oglesby said MACS graduates have gone on to start their own families and find careers - everything from professional to technical vocations.
During the program, several people expressed their appreciation for Oglesby's dedication to MACS. MACS fourth-grade teacher Karen De Graaf said she remembered a small man biking up to her house.
"I can't express enough how important Mr. O has been, what an influence he has been on our family," De Graaf said. She said Oglesby has been a "spiritual giant" in our lives.
The Rev. Bernie Wing said he especially appreciated the early years of MACS as two of his sons were in the school during that time.
"They continue to walk in the Lord," Wing said.
"Russ, you have been a faithful example for what this school is today," Wing told Oglesby.
Cindy Nelson became a kindergarten teacher at MACS in 1993. She recalled when Oglesby came to her small church in Balaton back in 1991 to let people know about the school.
"That was the first year I met Russ," Nelson said.
Harrison started teaching at MACS in 2004 and was recently named the principal, a role Oglesby has held. He said Oglesby has been like a father to him.
"Once I got to know him, I wanted to be like this man," Harrison said. He said Oglesby would help financially, as well as give his time.
"I'm really glad to know him and follow him as principal," Harrison said. "I can hope to make the impact that Mr. O has made."
Harrison said the school continues to grow. More teachers were added a few years ago, and the enrollment is 116 students.
As for the future, during the program, MACS board chairman Corey Prins said the school embarked on a strategic plan back in 2011. The six points of that plan include: spiritual vitality, improving academic programs, improving the school's financial status, hiring and retaining and development staff, increasing student enrollment and enhancing extracurricular activities.
"The thing that amazes me, when we started out, it was the parents' desire to have a school where they could communicate the faith they had in their homes into the school setting," Oglesby said. "The community gave a tremendous support and encouragement." Oglesby said that between 14 to 20 local churches are sending students to the school. "It was never just one church."