January 26, 2014

Georgia Christian celebrates 100 years, looks to future

January 26, 2014 Dean Poling The Valdosta Daily Times

DASHER — Geraldine McLeod Thompson’s life flows through the history of Georgia Christian School.

At the age of 16, she was a 1947 graduate of the institution once known as Dasher Bible School. Even earlier, Thompson’s parents attended the school as children. Her grandfather was one of the three men to found the school in 1914.

As Georgia Christian prepares to celebrate its centennial this year, Geraldine McLeod Thompson exemplifies not only the school’s connection to the community but how the school’s history and legacy run like threads through generations of families.

And because of the resilience of these connections, Georgia Christian’s influence has spread across the nation and the world, says Brad Lawson, the school’s president. Because of the foresight of three individuals in a small community such as Dasher, Lawson says, a small school was created that has attracted students from Japan, South Africa, Turkey, China, Brazil and other nations.

Ironically, the school was founded in 1914 because several Dasher families didn’t want their children traveling long distances to school. They wanted their children to attend classes closer to home and they wanted those classes to emphasize biblical training.

The emphasis of distance and faith-based education are important. The families weren’t so much concerned about their children attending school somewhere else in Lowndes County. School history indicates the community worried it may lose children and families to attend Christian schools in other states.

In 1913, a family sent young Archie Copeland to Sabinal Christian School in Texas. “His parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.N. Copeland, were disturbed at seeing him go so far away from home,” according to the school’s history. “A relative, Mrs. O.P. Copeland, asked her husband why they could not start a school right there in Dasher where the youth could get the Bible training they needed, and they would not have to go so far away.”

O.P. Copeland, P.W. McLeod, and W.J. Copeland led a petition drive to the Lowndes County school board in summer 1914. They wished to consolidate the Dasher and Union public schools then hold classes in the Dasher Church of Christ. They succeeded and held classes at the meetinghouse on Dasher’s Carol Ulmer Road.

Willis H. Allen and Molly Powell led the school’s first classes. They separated lower and upper grades with a curtain strung across the room. To keep with public school rules, Allen taught Bible classes after the regular school day. Children did not have to stay for Bible classes though most did.

After this one year, the consolidation ended. O.P. Copeland, P.W. McLeod, and W.J. Copeland were named as the board of trustees, a school board was selected, and they named the new institution Dasher Bible School.

“Sacrifice built this school,” Thompson says. “My grandmother could patch patches.”

These were not rich people. Thompson was born in 1930. She grew up in the Great Depression, but she cannot recall any want as a child. They had a garden which provided food. They had their homes. They had their school.

“Nobody tried to outdo the other,” she says. “We didn’t know we were poor. We were happy.”

Richard Wisenbaker donated land between the railroad and U.S. 41 South. In 1915, the school was built upon this land, the same land where Dasher Bible School by the mid-20th century became Georgia Christian School.

Georgia Christian today is a school deeply aware of its history while preparing for its future, Lawson says. “We have one foot in the past and the other stepping into the future.”

This dichotomy of tradition and vision seems to touch almost every aspect of the school.

Georgia Christian’s championship basketball teams remain a hallmark of the school’s sports history, but last fall, GCS fielded its first football team in a half century.

An artist rendering of how the Georgia Christian campus will look in the future hangs from a wall in Lawson’s office. An office housed in the historic building that still bears the name of Dasher Bible School. The building that will remain part of Georgia Christian now and in the future.

Even Lawson’s title as president combines past and future. GCS had presidents for decades then discontinued the office in 1991. Lawson had served as Georgia Christian principal/headmaster for five years until 2013 when the school reinstated the president’s office making him the first president in 22 years.

There are the families who can include Georgia Christian in their genealogy for generations, and the new students whose 21st century enrollment may represent the start of new family traditions for generations to come.

Later this year, Georgia Christian will celebrate 100 years with a Centennial Celebration with a series of Spring Lectureships in March and the Homecoming Celebration in early December, which is also expected to be when GCS will hold its annual fundraising banquet. In recent years, these banquets have featured speakers such as former First Lady Laura Bush, former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, and football great Terry Bradshaw. The school is working to book this year’s speaker.

Yet, even with all of the history, all of the current activities, and all of the plans for things to come, the school’s mission still revolves around the concepts of more individualized attention and including each student in the GCS’s faith-based tradition. It centers on the GCS centennial theme: “One Life at a Time.”

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