HILLSDALE, Okla. — As parents, grandparents, community members and patrons of Hillsdale Christian School sat on the recently installed bleachers to witness the official opening of their school’s sparkling new gymnasium, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind this accomplishment was a God thing.

In 2013, some talk was kicked around about building on to the 38-year-old private school in this small, Garfield County town. While the school sits at the north end of town, its service area is spread throughout Garfield and surrounding counties.

“In 2014, the discussion really got rolling,” HCS board chairman Jeff Hoffsommer told the crowd gathered Saturday morning that included state Sen. Roland Pederson, R-Burlington, and Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont.

The school’s facilities — secured from some forward-thinking community members including Hoffsommer’s father, James, in 1981, after the public school consolidated with Kremlin — already were aging, and more room was needed for the new junior high program.

“We never really did anything big,” Hoffsommer said, regarding renovations with the facilities in the past.

The timing seemed right. The area was enjoying a boom in oil prices at the time, and there was an enthusiastic response from the families and alumni, community and patrons, and “off we went.”

The timing was right

“It’s not been a smooth path all the way …,” Hoffsommer said. The board and school administrators went in to the project with a goal of doing it without debt, even though it seemed a daunting task to some at the time, and raising the money took time. “There has been changes …,” he continued, pointing out that the oil play went down and expenses grew on the project, “but it all came together.”

“We felt like we were on the right track, doing the right thing. This is the epitome of a team effort,” Hoffsommer said.

A building fund was opened on Dec. 5, 2015, and fundraising for the project began in earnest. In the end, there were 724 donations from 238 financial donors. Crunching some numbers, the school saw a donation check coming in, on average, about every three days throughout the length of the project, Hoffsommer said.

In September 2019, the school broke ground on its new building that would house three classrooms for the junior high program, the gym and its locker room facilities and bathrooms, a stage for school and community activities, a cafeteria and kitchen.

It was a special time specifically for Hoffsommer, as he has memories of his father, James, at the ground-breaking and driving up to the project site from time to time afterward to see how things were developing. Sadly, James Hoffsommer died Jan. 31, 2019, but as the project progressed, his children would marvel that their father was watching it all from heaven.

Their father and the other leaders of the community at the time left the town a great gift when they purchased that school, Hoffsommer said.

“Here we are 38 years after the founding, and in 38 years we’ll be gone. It’s a neat thing to be a part of a bigger thing that transcends generations.”

School spokeswoman Jill McCoy said the school’s motto of “impacting the lives of children for now and eternity” has been repeated throughout this project, as their eternal life is something that is focused on by the school in their day-to-day learning.

This project almost has been like an extra-credit, life assignment for the children, watching the school supporters work and seeing what was in store for their small school community.

Problems and their blessings

One thing the board learned early on through the process was, “We’re terrible at fundraising,” Hoffsommer said, drawing some laughter from the crowd. “The need was put out there, and you responded over and over again.”

Earlier this year, as the building began to take shape, officials believed they could get the students into the classrooms before the new year began, but it seemed the school might have to start its basketball season in the old gym that was built in the 1940s.

There was disappointment with the delay, Hoffsommer said. The thought of using that cramped building when a new facility sat so close and so close to being completed was agonizing.

“Anyone who grew up playing basketball in that venue, you knew you had to hit the wall after making a layup,” Hoffsommer said of the old gym.

“This project dragged on longer than we wanted it to,” he told the crowd. But just when things seemed to stall is just when it started to get interesting.

Oklahoma Bible Academy in Enid was renovating its gym facilities and donated its bleachers to Hillsdale Christian School. That wouldn’t have happened if the desired earlier timeline had been met.

While seemingly a God-send for the small school, there was worry that transportation and installation of the bleachers would cost more than getting a company to install new seating, Hoffsommer said.

And as the board struggled with the decision, another problem arose: COVID-19.

But in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, another blessing came about. Marsau Enterprises in Enid, which performs oilfield operations, was hit hard by the end of the oil play and the virus. Determined to keep his employees on the payroll, owner Marlin Esau accepted the Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan from the federal government. The stipulation was the employees had to work, so they went out in to the area performing services for school and charitable organizations.

Suddenly, HCS had the means to hauling and installing the bleachers with the donated labor of two crews for two weeks from Marsau.

“God worked that to our advantage,” Hoffsommer said. “It was just a real blessing, and its one of the one of the lasting memories we’ll have with this project.”

What makes a school

Many individuals and businesses pulled together to make this project happen, he said.

School administrator Leland Streck stressed that point when he said the 238 donors were only on the financial side.

“There were others showing up with shovels and brooms,” Streck said. “That’s what makes this school.

“One-million point some dollars,” he said. “That’s a God-thing.”

After board member Eileen Messenger cut the ribbon to signify the completion of the major aspects of the building project — there’s still some parking and outside work to finish — HCS students put on short exhibition basketball games for the crowd. The first five-minute game, played by the girls, was nearing its end when 5th-grader Ava Meier scored the first point in the new gym — a free throw. Kyler Messenger was the first point-maker for the boys during their match.

Even half a year ago, Hoffsommer said, it seemed as though they would not be able to open the season in the new building, but it was right there, and they dug in to make it happen. It was close. The school hosts its first basketball game of the season on Tuesday.

Hoffsommer likened the gym as a tool, like a big crescent wrench.

“It’s just here to help us do what we do,” Hoffsommer told the crowd Saturday morning, “to help us fulfill our mission, to integrate what they’re learning with a love for Jesus Christ.”

Hillsdale Christian is an interdenominational school operating as an independent corporation with a seven-member board. The school is accredited member of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. To learn more about the private school, go to https://www.hillsdalechristianschool.com/home.html.

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