Away up in northern Michigan there was a little church at Bear Lake. Elder Luther Warren, who when a boy was the first one to start young people's societies, held some meetings which brought out this company of believers. And he taught them that they should not send their children to worldly schools but should have a Christian school for them.
One of the families he taught was that of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Alkire. In the spring of 1897 Brother and Sister Alkire wrote to President Sutherland that they wanted a teacher to start a school for their children. It was the first call that had come for a church school teacher, and there was no one yet ready to start such a school. During the summer letters traveled back and forth, while down at the college President Sutherland was trying to get some teachers ready.
Then in the fall sad news came. Brother Alkire had died. But Sister Alkire wrote that still they must have the school. So Professor Griggs went up to see them. And there, as the cold winter began, the heart of the church was warmed, and they decided that they would start the school. Professor Griggs came back and called for a teacher. By this time there were four other churches calling for teachers, and five young men and women offered to leave their college studies and go out to start the church school work.
Up to Bear Lake was sent a teacher named Maud Wolcott. It was a cold, white world to which she came. The snow piled up in drifts higher than the heads of children and grownups, and the lakes were frozen over. One time when it was too cold for the horses to go, Miss Wolcott, with her oldest pupil, Laura, walked five miles to Sabbath school, and over the ice on the lake. She froze her nose and ears, but she got to Sabbath school, where she was superintendent, and opened it on time.
This church school was held out in the country, in the farmhouse of Sister Alkire. It was not a big house. It had only two rooms and a shed on the first floor, and the upstairs was only partly finished, with a little room for the teacher and a big room for the family. The only heat they had was from the kitchen stove below and from a sheet-iron stove in the front room.
That front room was the schoolroom. They had tables and chairs for desks and seats. They had a homemade blackboard. And they had a parlor organ. That was the center of cheer, for on it the teacher taught the first lessons in music, and she played it to lead them in the songs with which they brightened the day. Their favorite song was one she taught them the first morning. Do you know it?
“Do you fear the foe will in the conflict win?
Is it dark without you, darker still within?
Clear the darkened windows, open wide the door,
Let a little sunshine in!”
Besides the five children in the Alkire family, other children of the church came, so that there were thirteen students in this first church school. It was a brave thing this dear mother undertook, to have this school.
They had many blessed times that year, that showed the Lord had His hand over them. Once, in the dead of winter, the roof of their house caught fire, and if it had burned down, that would have been the end of the church school, and the family would have had nowhere to live. But the children and the teacher put out the fire. Laura climbed a rickety ladder to the roof outside, and the children passed up buckets of water to her. Miss Wolcott and Alice went upstairs, and piled up chairs on which the teacher stood and dashed up dippers of water that Alice handed to her.
The mother did not know of the fire, for she was out in the barn loft, praying for her children and the teacher and the school. She was weary and sad, because she had lost her husband, and she prayed that the Lord would not desert her and her fatherless children. All without her knowing, the Lord was right then helping her children and the teacher save their home and school. When she came out she was astonished, for she saw that God had answered her prayer.
So the church school work was started, in November and December of 1897. Before the end of the school year there were fifteen of these schools, and every year the number grew. Every year things got a little better. More churches took hold, better schoolhouses were built, new textbooks were written, and more teachers were trained.