Editors Note: The following article was published in the September 9, 1958 Youth Instructor.
The shrill jangling of the telephone penetrated the silence of the small office. The reverie of the sole occupant, a church executive, was disturbed, and it was several seconds before he moved to stop the intruding noise.
The voice on the other end of the line was excited. “I’ve found just what we have been looking for! You must see it right away. It’s a perfect place for a school. I’ll see you in forty-five minutes at my office.”
“Wait a second,” the president said. “I’m leaving on my vacation in an hour. I’ll have a couple of my associates on the locating committee go out to see the land. I’ll take a look at it the day I get back from the shore.”
Slowly he put the telephone back in its cradle. Leaning back in his swivel chair, he soon realized that his hopes of polishing up the speech he wanted to finish before he left on his trip were obliterated. Quickly he reached for the telephone and made some hurried calls, at the same time stuffing papers back into desk drawers.
T. Edgar Unruh, president of the East Pennsylvania Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, briefly outlined to Everett Calkins, pastor of the Reading, Pennsylvania, church, and Anthony W. Kaytor, the conference home missionary secretary, the mission he wished them to undertake with William Lechner, a real estate man, that same afternoon.
Within minutes the pastor and conference departmental secretary were weaving their way through a heavy maze of traffic to the other side of Reading, headquarters city of the East Pennsylvania Conference.
The deadline was met, and soon the three men were driving north. Within minutes after arriving at their destination – Hamburg, Pennsylvania, twenty-five miles from Reading – Elder Calkins, too, became excited. “You’re right! This is it! Let’s make some phone calls right away.”
The all-important calls were made. Others came to inspect the property and give approval-members of the academy locating committee, the conference executive committee, and representatives of the Columbia Union Conference and the General Conference. But no one that day knew that the calls made then were the first of hundreds that would be involved in the development of an amazing project, the magnitude of which only the participants themselves could ever realize.
Thus emerged a remarkable adventure in faith – not just a sentimental experience, but the stern reality of arduous labor, lost sleep, sweat, tears, and seemingly insurmountable financial obstacles.
The adventure is still far from over; it is going on right now. Nor does it involve only a few people. Nearly four thousand have had a part so far in an amazing dream-come-true enterprise within the framework of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The project has resulted in Blue Mountain Academy, a coeducational secondary school now in operation for two hundred teen-agers of the East Pennsylvania Conference and neighboring areas.
The story of Blue Mountain Academy began that hot, sticky day in August, 1952, when William Lechner, the real estate man employed by the East Pennsylvania Conference to find a site for the new school, called the conference president to report a “lucky” find. Many months, even years, had gone by since action had been taken by conference committees and constituency meetings to begin a new school.
The action was difficult to implement, mainly because of financial problems and the difficulty of finding the proper location for the school. The requirements set up by the locating committee were stringent: The site must be rural ; the area must be good farm land with plenty of woods and a year-round stream; it must have at least 300 acres; it must be within a few miles of a small town and yet a reasonable distance from larger cities; rail and highway facilities must be near; the available power supply must be adequate; and the average rainfall must be sufficient to ensure a good crop.
The site inspected that day was a 683- acre tract three miles west of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, just south of the geographical center of the conference and within a short driving distance of most of the larger cities of eastern Pennsylvania. The fifteen-hundred-foot Blue Mountain range hemmed the northern side, and transcontinental Route 22 skirted the southern borders of the property.
While touring the farms, the two conference representatives and the real estate man drew out the list of rigid stipulations. Checkmarks dotted the paper as the trio surveyed the results. They were amazed to discover that they had finally found a place that met the ideal.
However, it was soon discovered that the property was not for sale. It was owned by a wealthy Reading industrialist and had been in the family for generations. The real estate agent had known that the property was not listed, but he had had a faint hope that it might be the place he had been assigned to find. J. Lee Bausher, president and owner of Infant Sox Company, was firm however, in his determination to keep the property. The Berks County land was valuable to him even though he spent very little time there.
Committee members and others visited the acreage, and all were convinced. This was it. On September 16, 1952, a large conference educational expansion committee met in Reading and voted to purchase the property. But it still was not for sale.
Little by little Mr. Bausher began to realize that his land was being sought by a religious group for the sole purpose of erecting a rural center for the training of young people. His interest deepened when he realized that Seventh-day Adventists were the ones interested. His grandmother had been an Adventist, and he distinctly remembered her waking him on Saturday mornings and telling him that it was the “Sabbath day.”
On January 28, 1953, a sales agreement was finally signed by the conference and Mr. Bausher for the almost unbelievable price of $180,000 for six farms of 683 acres, a complete dairy, 169 head of cattle, nine separate dwellings plus seven barns and a dozen or more other buildings, and all of the machinery necessary to operate the entire plant. Also included was a complete youth camp, including five buildings and a swimming pool, and an expensive summer vacation cottage.
On April 1, 1953, the conference took possession of the Blue Mountain Springs Dairy and Farms, and hired a farm manager.
The property was bought, all right, but there were no buildings suitable for school use. And there was little money left. Offerings by constituents and conference operational savings for half a decade had been consumed by the signature on one check.
The problem was placed squarely on the shoulders of every worker and layman in the entire conference. The response was overwhelming. Funds poured in. Architects began to draw a master plan for a model institution and drawings for the initial buildings. Parents, teenagers, and the rank-and-file church members rallied to support a herculean effort.
A long year went by as plans materialized for every phase of the program. Support continued to come from all over the conference. The executive committee of the Columbia Union Conference gave strong moral and financial support. Everyone wanted to see the new school in operation.
The master campus plan included two dormitories, an administration building, a cafeteria, gymnasium, church, and industrial buildings. It was decided to build three units first in order to get the school going as soon as possible. More than a million dollars was needed before the first class could be held.
On a raw, cold day in April, 1954, seven hundred persons gathered on the site of the proposed new school for the ground-breaking ceremony. The vice-president of the North American Division of the church, Elder William B. Ochs, turned the first shovel of sod, initiating the construction program. L. G. Small, of Washington Missionary College, was hired to direct construction, which began immediately.
The first principal, T. Housel Jemison, now in the General Conference Department of Education, worked untiringly for months to gather together a faculty and prospective students. The present principal is Russell R. Adams, former principal of the Philadelphia Academy, which was disbanded when Blue Mountain Academy began operations.
As building progressed, behind every action was the cautious, careful, and deliberate planning of Elder Unruh. He was engaged in a constant round of never-ending activity—committees, fundraising, purchasing, personnel, procurement, and building supervision in addition to the already heavy responsibilities of guiding a conference in its spiritual program.
Sixteen months after the first sod was turned, school was ready to begin. However, the pioneer group of students found no heat in the dormitories, no hot water for baths, and no windowpanes in the classrooms. For the first few weeks of school, teachers and students sat huddled in overcoats, boots, and earmuffs. They hopped mud holes between buildings and practically everything was being improvised. But school went on nevertheless, and not a murmur was heard from any of the students.
The picture is much different today, as a capacity enrollment begins the fourth year of school. Three brick and stone buildings are completely finished and furnished with the latest equipment; the twenty-acre campus is green with a carpet of grass; wide sidewalks provide easy access to the buildings; and scores of small trees are nosing skyward.
The academy farms and dairy surround the school and provide work for more than thirty boys. About sixty registered Guernseys and thirty registered Holstein cows provide more than three 22 hundred tons of milk yearly for a nearby dairy. Three hundred white Leghorn hens provide eggs for the school. Alfalfa, barley, corn, and oats are raised for dairy feed, and wheat and soybeans are raised for cash crops. Twenty acres are devoted to the school garden, which produces many items for freezing in the huge walk-in deep-freeze unit.
Students are able to earn part of their expenses through the school year by employment in the kitchen, dairy, farm, maintenance, library, and other departments.
Early this summer construction was completed on a building three miles from the campus for an Eastern branch of Harris Pine Mills, the largest manufacturer of unfinished pine furniture in the world. The plant is scheduled to provide employment for eighty boys who attend the academy. Now under consideration are new industrial-expansion plans that will eventually make it possible for students to work a portion of their way through school every year.
Construction is expected to get under way soon for the second major phase of the project—the completion of the master campus plan. A $350,000 administration building will provide for all administrative offices, classrooms, an auditorium, laboratories, and library. The second wing of the boys’ residence, now used for administration, will be converted to dormitory rooms. The second wing of the girls’ dormitory will also be completed, making it possible for 320 students to enroll at the school.
The long-range construction program also calls for a chapel, gymnasium-auditorium, and an industrial-arts building.
The arduous labor, the sweat, the tears, and the financial obstacles have not ended. Providing a Christian education for young men and women of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not an easy task. It requires sacrifice on the part of everyone. But the rewards are great.
The story of Blue Mountain Academy is truly an adventure in faith—faith that God does what He promises to do for those who believe in His name.