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By Patricia Ostiller
Fall 2014 marked the beginning of Maranatha High School’s yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary as the only nondenominational, co-ed, Christian high school in the San Gabriel Valley. For half a century, Maranatha has been serving young men and women by providing them with an environment that fosters a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, prepares them academically to attend colleges and universities of their choice, allows them opportunities to explore their God-given talents in athletics and the arts, and instills in them a sense of service to the greater community. “Maranatha is not so much a place but a way of life,” says longtime administrator John Rouse, who is entering his 32nd year at the school and currently serves as the Director of Admissions.
Don Oliver’s Dream to Build a Christian High School
While today Pasadena is home to a myriad of private high schools, the dream to have a Christian high school in this area began in the early 1960s with Don Oliver, then a math and science teacher at San Gabriel Christian School. As he taught junior high students, he realized that there was a need for a Christian high school in the San Gabriel Valley. At the time, these graduating junior high students were entering public high schools where God would no longer be part of the daily curriculum nor would students’ spiritual growth be a priority. Understanding that high school is such a formative time for young people, Mr. Oliver talked to parents who echoed his concern and desire to see a Christ-centered high school for their children.
In a leap of faith, Mr. Oliver resigned from San Gabriel Christian to dedicate his time to the formation of a new Christian school, which would be called Maranatha, meaning The Lord Cometh. By August 1965, Mr. Oliver had secured a four-man school board and an eight-person teaching staff. This faculty taught multiple subjects and included Mr. Oliver’s wife, Betty, who taught home economics, and Mr. Oliver himself, who taught science and driver’s education while also serving as principal.
Sunday school classrooms at Temple City Brethren Church were to provide the venue for Maranatha’s classrooms. However, just a few short weeks before school was to start, nearby residents of the church petitioned the city, opposing having a school at that location. The city officials voted in favor of the residents and a new location had to be found immediately. With school scheduled to begin in a matter of weeks, some parents of the 40 students who had taken entrance exams became concerned that Maranatha would not open and thus enrolled their students in public high schools.
Maranatha High School Dedicated on September 12, 1965
After joining in prayer and asking the Lord to provide another location, temporary quarters were secured at Arcadia Union Church. On September 12, 1965, with excitement and enthusiasm in the air, a dedication service was held at this church, where the school board, faculty, staff, students, and families gathered. A new school song entitled “Maranatha, the Lord Cometh” was introduced, and this founding community promised to provide “Christian Education for Leadership” and to hold high moral, spiritual, and scholastic standards.
Twenty-nine students (freshmen, sophomores and juniors) began school at Maranatha later that month. While classes got underway, Mr. Oliver and the board continued to look for a campus site that would be more centrally located. On October 26, 1965, Hope Union Church in Rosemead became Maranatha’s home. As the first school year unfolded, the student council chose the school colors – red and blue – and the “Minutemen” was selected as the name for the sports teams. Following a patriotic theme, “The Patriot” was selected as the name for the yearbook. Chantry Flats was home to the school’s inaugural spiritual life retreat. Interscholastic basketball was the primary sport for the boys, while the girls engaged in swimming, volleyball and softball. The school’s first drama production, “Aunt Tillie Goes to Town”, came to fruition as well. Mr. Oliver also spent time promoting the school in the community with his Public Relations Team, a group of students who liked to sing and testify about the Lord. The team made appearances at local churches and schools to spark interest in Maranatha.
Interest and Enrollment Increases in Maranatha
After four years, MHS outgrew Hope Union Church and moved briefly to First Baptist Church in Rosemead. In 1970, the school moved to Arcadia Christian Church, where student enrollment continued to grow. By 1975, 229 students were enrolled at Maranatha, and over a dozen student clubs and organizations existed, including the Ski Club, Chess Club, Bike Club, Letterman’s Club, and Pep Band. As Maranatha concluded its tenth year, then principal Bill McKinley remarked that “we must pay special tribute to all those who sacrificed so much to bring us to this place…to make Maranatha one of the finest Christian high schools in the country”. In 1981, the school moved to Sierra Mesa School in Sierra Madre, operating under a lease from the City of Sierra Madre. By its 20th anniversary in 1985, student enrollment was at 485 students.
Sierra Madre Brings New Dreams and Challenges
For the next two decades, Sierra Madre was Maranatha’s home. The school won its first CIF-SS championships during this time, began offering Advanced Placement courses, and established the Office of Advisor to the Chaplains (first led by Robert Baker) who took care of the chaplains and planned chapels and the Spiritual Life Retreat. Maranatha also incrementally increased its academic requirements to attend the school during this time, and celebrated the selection of two Rose princesses from the school.
In 2000, the school purchased 63 acres of mountainside property in Sierra Madre with the hope of building a new permanent campus. However, just as Mr. Oliver faced challenges when seeking a location to open Maranatha in 1965, nearly 35 years later, Maranatha’s dream for a permanent campus was not without its challenges.
The new property was zoned for houses and the school was seeking a zoning change to build the campus. After two years of debate, the Sierra Madre City Council denied Maranatha’s request, even though the vast majority of the 63 acres of land would have remained as open space and allowed public access to hiking trails.
With the Sierra Madre lease about to expire, once again the school was faced with finding a temporary campus. Space opened up at the Pasadena campus of the William Carey International University and the school operated there from 2002 to 2005 as it continued to pray for a permanent home.
A Permanent Home in Pasadena
In May 2004, Maranatha High School and Harvest Rock Church purchased the Ambassador Auditorium and other key structures on the former Ambassador College campus in Pasadena from the Worldwide Church of God. Maranatha would turn the vacant facilities on this 13- acre site into a high school while Harvest Rock would utilize the auditorium for weekend services and as a concert venue. The school would also enter into a joint use agreement with Harvest Rock allowing its students to utilize the auditorium for school performances.
The Maranatha community was overjoyed. This campus would provide an unprecedented environment for the school to fulfill its spiritual, educational, cultural and community vision. Maranatha began renovating the campus in earnest, creating an Academic Center that would house 30 new classrooms, a Student Center that would provide a school cafeteria, banquet space, and administrative offices, and an athletic center, with a resurfaced gym, indoor swimming pool, and a beautiful new synthetic turf field. A parking garage located under the athletic field would provide ample student and staff parking. With student enrollment just under 500 students, this permanent campus was an answer to prayer and would give the school the opportunity to serve future generations of students residing in the San Gabriel Valley and beyond.
Maranatha began its 40th school year on its new Pasadena campus, and on October 18, 2005, more than 700 individuals including Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, filled the Student Center to celebrate the grand opening of Maranatha’s new permanent home. And yet, as former School Board President David Poole, who played a significant role in securing the current campus, remarked, “God has most blessed my family by what Maranatha has delivered to high schoolers, often in very modest facilities. My oldest two children graduated from Maranatha in 2001 and 2002 and consequently never had the opportunity to be students on a campus that had a gym, field, cafeteria or swimming pool. They do not feel cheated. Maranatha for them was not defined by its buildings and I pray that it will never be. Maranatha made its impact on them because God is not ignored or taken for granted at Maranatha, academic excellence is present at the school, MHS students have been the kind of friends we wanted for our children, and MHS teachers and coaches have been great role models for our children.”
Today, Maranatha serves a student body of 680 young men and women from the greater Los Angeles area. With 160 Christian church backgrounds, 70 middle schools and 67 zip codes represented, Maranatha embraces a diverse student body. Maranatha’s college preparatory curriculum, which includes 31 Honors and Advanced Placement classes, has paved the way for our students to be accepted at top schools such as Yale, USC, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley, as well as top Christian colleges such as Wheaton, Baylor, and Calvin College.
Maranatha students put their faith into action by providing service to over 150 nonprofit agencies. International and domestic student mission/service trips continue to grow, with students traveling to New Orleans, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. Maranatha’s athletic program develops sportsmanship and character in our student-athletes while continuing to make competitive strides; almost 50% of our varsity teams win League Championships and over 90% compete in CIF playoffs. Fostering the creative expression of each student remains an intentional focus of its curriculum, with students devoting tremendous hours both in the classroom and on the stage to hone their craft and entertain audiences as well. As current headmaster Dr. David Gyertson looks to the future, he says, “Maranatha is proud of its half-century of history, but I think of the history yet to be made. As we keep Christ at the center of our commitment to offer a high quality, college preparatory educational experience for our students, we will continue to strengthen and optimize all that we are providing to ensure that the Maranatha Difference continues to transform lives. After all, transforming lives is our primary goal… that’s what we are up to here.”