God’s Hand on Lighthouse Christian Academy
by Marnie Spencelayh (Co-founder of LCA)
In January 1987, my mom, Dorothy Dobson and I began to pray about starting a Christian school in Langford or Colwood. My oldest daughter was ready to go to kindergarten and I wanted her to be close to home in a small Christian school that supported our values. Fifteen years earlier, Mom had helped me to create Discovery School so we felt we could do it again!
Finding the right location was the first obstacle and we explored several options until someone suggested an unused chapel and the little hall behind Church of the Advent. The hall hadn’t been occupied for quite a while and needed a lot of work and money to make it work. We left the building feeling that it was hopeless but soon decided to look at it again with a contractor. He pointed out the things that would need fixing and said he would be willing to work with us. Of course, we had no money, so it all seemed a bit crazy. The amount he quoted was beyond what we could imagine but Mom was sure we could borrow it.
Her bank turned down her request for a loan but in her prayer time, she got the idea to call Pacific Coast Savings (now Coast Capital). Someone there was very encouraging and offered a line of credit based on the value of my parents’ home even though they had never dealt with that credit union. My parents were in their late 60s at that time. This was the first of many times of God’s provision that we received money in unusual circumstances.
Our next challenge was to find teachers and some students. My niece would be in grade 7 and my daughter in kindergarten so we decided to try for two teachers. We decided that Mom would be the first principal because I still had two little girls at home. Even as I write this, I can remember the excitement and wonder of the planning and dreaming. Mom once said, “I feel as if we have a tiger by the tail.” The project seemed to have a life of its own!
God had prepared two first year teachers who were willing to work with the tiny group of students. The primary class had five little kids in Grades K – 3 which Dalila Reimer taught, and Sue Herzog took the intermediate group of Grades 4 – 7 with four students! These creative enthusiastic women even agreed to set up their first classrooms between the benches in the chapel until the rooms in the hall were ready to be occupied. That first year was filled with challenges and rewards! The teachers had to figure out how to provide a quality education for a variety of grade levels in one room with very little money for resources. The salaries they received for this huge task were so low that it had to be God that kept them there!
Families began to hear about our start-up school and by the end of the year, the enrollment had doubled from 10 to about 20 children. At Christmas time in that first year, it was obvious that the kindergartens needed their own program and we hired Patricia Bentham. She would work half time but because the salaries were too low to cut in half, we had to double the full-time teachers’ paychecks! Mom appointed Trish to be the Vice Principal and I became the Principal when Mom announced her retirement at the age of 73!
For the first few years, I chaired the board, helped with field trips and created fund raising events. As time went on, I began to teach certain subjects. One big one for me was when Mom told me I had to learn about computers as “they are the way of the future”! She bought an Apple 2e and we both began to play with this new technology. Our early students will remember the Tandy Word Processors which had to be run on rechargeable batteries because the old building had so few electrical plugs.
The enrollment continued to grow, and we doubled in number each year until over 100 children packed the church hall and tiny playground. The church board decided that we were too big for their property and told us we had to find a new location. The year before that happened, the board of directors decided we should buy a portable building from a church near Vancouver.
Finding a property to set it up on was the next challenge. A series of miracles led us to the 5-acre land on Parkdale Drive where the school sits now. Peter Gericke, a parent, engineer and board member, assured local businessman Barry Fisher that our little school was a good use of his property. Ken Pinner, also a parent, agreed to be the contractor, and donations of time and money poured in for the elementary building to be brought on trucks by ferry and set up. A roof, foundation, windows, and walls to create classes and an office, turned the ten portables into one building with a long hall…and a water fountain. Those were the two things the kids were most excited about!
Moving day was in November 1995 and the staff, parents and students all helped to move desks, books, chalk boards, and boxes of stuff to the new site. The children were given a week off so that the teachers could organize their classrooms. What an exciting and busy time that was!
Senior grades were added at the request of the families which meant that we needed space for the high school. Teachers qualified in Humanities, Mathematics, and Science as well as Physical Education and a variety of elective courses were hired to create a full graduation program. More portable classrooms were purchased and reconfigured with classrooms, washrooms and a large meeting hall. The first class of ten Grade 12s, including my daughter, Katie Spencelayh (now Pinilla), graduated in June 2000.
As with most organizations, the school had difficulties but through it all, various principals, teachers, parents and boards have worked to keep the vision alive. Students who attend still get a wonderful education from the excellent teachers who make sure that the children are the priority. “A daily walk with God” which was part of the vision given to Mrs. Dobson and Mrs. Spencelayh, continues to determine the direction of the school. There will be challenges in the future because that is how life works but everyone involved with this little school will tell you that God has Lighthouse Christian Academy firmly in His hands!