Our History

A History of Wisconsin Seventh-day Adventist Secondary Education

Secondary education in Wisconsin really had its beginnings in two locations. The Wisconsin-Michigan Conference had a developing school named Walderly,and the Wisconsin-Illinois Conference also had a fledgling school developing which was Bethel Academy. Walderly really appeared on the map when the railroad came through from St. Paul to Superior and Duluth in 1880. This was a forest community near Superior where there was a great deal of logging and sawmills. The lion’s share of logs had been removed from the area before 1900, but there was still enough timber in the area for landowners to build homes and other buildings as needed.

Arthur Hallock’s dream was to build a school after the pattern that Ellen White suggested. Walderly School was established in 1907 and began classes in January of 1908. There was no formal curriculum and no graduation. Students took the subjects they liked and left when they had finished. Great emphasis was placed on labor as an important part of education. Half of the students worked for all of their expenses and the others for most of them. Few of the students went on to college. This was pioneer country and Walderly provided well for the youth of the time.

Professor O. P. Wilson expressed the aim of Walderly: “We are here for the purpose of studying Northern Wisconsin boys and girls, and to teach THEM instead of teaching English, history, Bible, and mathematics. In other words, we are a person centered school instead of the traditional study-centered institution of the hickory-stick type.”

Walderly’s industrial emphasis was bewildering to some conference officials. When union officials arrived they saw mostly barns, sheds, and lumber piles, and wondered where the school was. The Union Conference began urging all academies to conform to the same curriculum, and Mr. Hallock decided he would rather direct a private school.

He moved to Hylandale where he lived out his vision of SDA education until his death. From 1916-1921 Mr. Von Pohle was the principal at Walderly. The world was involved in the World War I. During those years the sawmill shut down because there were no more logs. The farm did not prosper because it had no markets. In 1920 the administration building burned with all of the equipment inside. The conference was never able to restore those losses and the academy began to go down hill. In 1928 North and South Wisconsin were united. Walderly was closed in May and its students went to Bethel the next year.

During campmeeting in 1898 it was decided to build a school “where young people could be trained to work in God’s cause and also be taught manual labor.” Bethel Academy began in 1899 with a gift of 200 wooded acres near Arpin followed by the purchase of an additional 800 acres. One of the first buildings on the school property was a barn built for the horses and their feed. Then crude shacks were built and the Snows moved into one of these. They were so small that Mrs. Snow wrote to a friend, “We have to go outside to turn around.”

After clearing land and constructing housing for faculty, they were ready to put up a T-shaped frame building that would house administration, classrooms, chapel, elementary school, store, post office and dormitories for both men and women. This three-story structure was built and completely furnished for $9000.
The number one objective of the school was to prepare students to teach in Adventist elementary schools. According to the Arpin Journal, Bethel Academy was established in 1899 “in a rural section, removed from the evil influences of city life.” In 1902 Professor Hallock completed his advanced arithmetic class ahead of schedule, he began filling in with a little algebra. The algebra class lasted but three days. Principal Washburn stopped by and promptly called a halt to this “useless nonsense” and told Hallock to teach astronomy instead. No commencement exercises were held for the first decade on the philosophy that since no one could possibly learn all there was to know about any subject, no one could truly graduate.

During the depression years, when money was scarce, parents who lived on farms were given the opportunity to help pay tuition costs by canning such produce as tomatoes, beans, corn, and apples for use by the Bethel Academy cafeteria. Beatrice Nelson writes, “For tomatoes the Academy paid 12 cents per quart. Because corn is more difficult to can, it brought 20 cents, so of course my mother chose to can corn. At the beginning of the school year the corn that had been canned was taken to the academy, and financial credit was applied against my account. That, along with my part-time employment at the school substantially reduced the amount of money my parents had to pay for my school bills.”

New Year’s morning, 1907, students and teachers awoke to the cry FIRE! FIRE! The building burned completely to the ground. The remainder of the year was spent in “Noah’s Ark,” a long low building hastily erected and covered with tar paper. The following two years funds which had been raised through the conference were spent erecting the cement block main building with offices, classrooms, a library and laboratory. About the same time dormitories were built for the girls and boys, one on either side of the main building. Each student had a kerosene lamp and a wash bowl and pitcher. The pitchers had to be filled at the pump and the water carried to the rooms.

School life continued at Bethel Academy until 1949 when, after a half-century of devotion to Christian youth education, activities were transferred to a new acreage at Columbus, and pioneering began anew with Wisconsin Academy.

During the 1940s the Wisconsin Conference was evaluating the needs of Bethel Academy and determined that is was necessary to enlarge the boys’ dormitory to make room for more students, an enlarged administration building was needed and the curriculum needed to expand to include vocational training. Additional farm land, a more adequate water supply and industries were also needed. After much prayer, many hours and miles of searching, it was determined that the conference would purchase land near Columbus. They began with the purchase of one farm and then added two more farms to join together forming what is now the landscape for Wisconsin Academy.

Of course, there was money to raise and the slogan rang out over the conference: “Get your dollars all in line, for the move in ’49.”

The new school opened in September of 1949 with the girls’ dormitory housing all students, administrative offices, classrooms, library, laundry and cafeteria. There was no heat in the building, no running water, and no cooking facilities. The students had to wait in line to use the running water facilities in the old farmhouse, the line often forming by 5:00 AM. The days were often damp and chilly so sweaters and coats were worn almost constantly. The student fortunate enough to have heater fans or heating lamps in their possession were the envy of their shivering schoolmates. Hot foods were prepared in the kitchen of the old farmhouse and eagerly consumed in the prospective cafeteria. Wisconsin Academy has always been crowded, and with three students in rooms intended for two, the lack of desks was felt keenly.

After the first weeks of school conditions greatly improved. There was now heat in the building, the plumbing was installed and the added luxury of a new blond desk was added in each room.

As funds permitted, improvements were made in the girls’ dormitory and the gymnasium and boys’ dormitory were built. Construction of the Administration building began in 1960.

Wisconsin Academy is noted for its “growing pains.” This is more easily understood when this excerpt from a letter written by a former student says, “It seems that the underlying theme in academy life at WA is the preparation for a place in the Lord’s work…Weeks of Prayer, classes, vespers and even organized class functions, pointed out the joy of service to God.”

When alumni think back on academy life, the teachers and a specific set of buildings immediately come to mind. Through the years the school plant has changed to meet the needs of the students it serves.

We crossed another milestone last year with the completion of a new girls’ dormitory. Change is essential. We look forward to a future of further growth and expansion as well as changes in the curriculum. The mission at Wisconsin Academy is to “Develop leaders today who will walk with Jesus into eternity.”