Oakdale Christian School was begun in 1892, merged with Baxter Christian School in 1963, and closed circa 2000.
Oakdale Christian School was begun in 1892 to educate the children of Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church and others in the Oakdale Park neighborhood. It was located at 1013 Temple Street just west of Kalamazoo Avenue.
Oakdale Christian School History, 1892-1967
In two upstairs rooms of a small house on Hancock Street, a school opened on September 11, 1892. The house stood west of the Oakdale Christian Reformed Church, which sponsored the school.
Led by its first minister, the Rev. Gerrit A. DeHaan, the church consistory appointed De School Commissie to set up a Christian school. On September 6, 1892, the three-man committee organized with G. Brouwer, president; M. Byleveld, secretary; and C. Bakker, treasurer. Five days later the school opened.
The Oakdale church had sponsored some teaching before this. There had been summer schools to teach Dutch and Bible. These were taught by a student named Henry Beets, who came to Calvin College and Seminary from the wheatfields of Kansas and later became the denomination's stated clerk and foreign missions secretary. But the day school was a new thing for Oakdale church. The first teacher, Mr. P. R. Holman, was paid $8 a week, and the school grew so fast that the following month an assistant teacher was hired. She was the pastor's sister, Miss Lena DeHaan, and she taught the little children for $4 a week. Of this, $1 was paid her by the head teacher.
The upstairs rooms in the house were crowded with students. In the second year of the school, a new building was built. It had only two rooms, but they were bigger rooms than those in the house. The new school stood on a lot on Temple Street and cost $575. The total operation of the school the second year cost $631, and it seems there was only one teacher, Mr. A. W. DeJonge. (The minutes from 1892 through 1908 are lost, so there are many things we do not know.) Mr. DeJonge went on to become a Reformed Church pastor, and the school was turned over to his brother, Barend, in 1895, until he also left for the ministry.
The school committee kept asking for Christian school sermons from the pastor, students, and professors of the Theological School. The sermons were meant to stimulate love and loyalty but also to open the pocketbook of the hearers. There was a problem stemming from the long summer vacation of the public schools. Some parents saved money by using the public schools and then sending their children to brush up on Dutch and Bible at the Christian school which had only a two-week vacation. Until 1897 the school was administered by the Oakdale church. By this time there were 80 pupils, though the faculty still numbered only one teacher, helped by advanced pupils who also taught in Dutch. In 1897, a school society was organized containing four men. The school finances were transferred from the church deacons to the school society - the total amount being two pennies.
A new teacher, Mr. H. Jacobsma, came and was followed in 1901 by Mr. A. S. DeJong. A second teacher was added for the 105 pupils.
Then the school burned completely to the ground.
The Oakdale school society bought an extra lot and completed a four-room school in 1902, which cost $3,000. When the new school was first used on April 28, 1902, there were 169 pupils and three teachers. One of the teachers taught the English language.
In 1904, Mr. Joosten replaced Mr. Jacobsma as principal-teacher. In 1905, the first graduating class consisted of 5 girls and 4 boys. [The school went through 8th grade in those days.] In 1906, Mr. Frank VandenBerg was engaged as the fifth teacher. The school society was incorporated that year, and the church deeded the school property to the new corporation. Four rooms were added to the building. Mr. A. S. DeJong became full principal in 1907, and an additional teacher was added.
Board Minutes, 1908-1913 - A committee canvassed the congregation for money to purchase twenty tons of coal. In 1909, the 8th grade class numbered 26, but 12 did not graduate. Until 1915, all administrative matters were settled by the school society. There were continual problems with parents not paying the tuition. In 1909, the school board voted to close school for a day so that the teachers and pupils could attend the fair. An annual picnic was held with the church members in the wooded grove on Kalamazoo near Burton. On slippery winter days, there was sliding after school on the Hall Street hill.
In 1915, Mr. John DeJager became the school principal. In 1913, the summer vacation was lengthened from four to eight weeks and teachers were appointed for ten months. In 1916, there was a diphtheria epidemic in the city. Eight children became ill, and three of them died within a month. After this all textbooks were fumigated.
In 1917, the school board changed the instruction in grades one and two from Dutch to English. "Dutch was not an absolute necessity for Christian education!" After another year, Dutch was eliminated altogether. The janitor asked in December of 1917 whether electric lights could be installed in the rooms.
With the shortages being felt during World War I, the Class of January 1918 had no graduation. It was not considered right to heat a church just for this when churches were doubling up for Sunday services to conserve coal. Church bells and factory whistles blew on the morning the war came to an end, and the school teachers threw open their classroom doors - school was dismissed, and the children walked home past groups of people weeping for joy.
In 1918, the Wayne County Civic Federation began a campaign to end the existence of Christian schools. Two years later there was another campaign against Christian schools. The issue was settled by the Oregon case decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the right of parents to provide adequate schools for their children.
There was one more addition built on the Temple Street property. It was a two-room annex, separate from the eight-room building and built largely with donated labor and materials. It was only a temporary solution. In 1922, the society voted to begin building a new school. Oakdale Church bought the old school property.
A New Building
The new red brick school on Fisk Street bounded by Neland and Alto was dedicated in January 1924. At the same time, mothers met and organized the Oakdale Co-operative Club (the Mothers Club) to provide more cooperation between the home and school and to provide financial help to the school. The first officers were: Mrs. H. Heyns, President; Mrs. H. Kuiper, Vice-president; Mrs. G. J. VanWesep, Secretary; Mrs. G. J. Daverman, Vice-Secretary-Treasurer.
During the depression, the growth in number continued. Teacher salaries were cut back and stayed that way until 1935. There was a staff of principal, clerk, and 12 teachers.
For many years there were only eight grades. An attempt to add the ninth grade to provide transition to Calvin College failed for lack of students. Later, the ninth grade was introduced and the class of January 1926 was the first to complete ninth grade.
Origins of Sylvan Christian School
The growth in enrollment pressed the school to provide larger facilities. In 1943, land was purchased at Sylvan and Griggs, but the need was immediate, and a two-room addition was authorized for the Fisk Street building. While it was being constructed, one class met in the Neland Avenue Church. Before the Sylvan property was completed in September 1944 (delayed by wartime restrictions) there were three classes meeting in Fuller Avenue Church and later, in 1953, two in the Oakdale Church besides. By 1949, it was plain that both the Fisk and Sylvan facilities were inadequate. In May 1950, the school society authorized an eight-room addition to the Fisk Street building. Twelve more lots were purchased adjacent to the Sylvan property, and eight more classrooms and a gym were added there. In 1955, a ten-room addition to the Sylvan building was authorized. The special committee to decide whether two large separate school buildings should be operated under one board and society was studied, and a report made at the 1956 meeting. The decision was made to separate into two societies, bringing into existence Sylvan School, daughter of Oakdale.
Meanwhile, Baxter Christian School and Oakdale Christian began discussions because of the shrinking enrollment at Baxter. Study showed that there was value in having one junior high for the two schools and in consolidating to provide a fuller program. In March 1963, the societies of both schools approved a merger to form the United Christian School Society.