THE DREAM IS REALIZED
In July of 1944, the annual three day meeting of churches of Christ in Saskatchewan, usually held in Radville, was held that year at Wawota, near the Husband farm. This annual meeting was somewhat of a forerunner of the present day Lectureship held at Western Christian College on Thanksgiving weekend.
During that meeting, Cecil Bailey got up and spoke passionately in favour of establishing a Christian high school, or at the very least, more than the four month winter Bible schools J.C. Bailey and Wilfred Orr were holding in Radville. He supported the idea of a year long Bible school that would lead eventually to a high school as well. This was the dream he and Lavine and Lillian had discussed back in Oungre in the late thirties and nurtured many, many nights until the wee hours of the morning.
During the intervening years, there had also been times when Signe and Hector MacLeod, and Pearl and Wilfred Orr had joined them in discussing their longings for such a school. Lillian talks about their reasons in her book, A Vision Splendid. This dream of a residential high school was the reason Cecil was working so furiously to get his university degree. He, as well as Lillian, wanted to be ready and equipped to teach.
This plea of Cecil's was the first public speech made in favour of this kind of organization. He was surprised and delighted that enthusiastic interest was immediately voiced. Wilfred proposed a meeting in Radville on Thanksgiving weekend in October, for the purpose of putting together an organization to follow through on the idea. That meeting was held; a committee of three - Cecil Bailey, Hector MacLeod and Wilfred Orr, was chosen to study different methods of organizing such a school and to bring a report to the next three day meeting the following July. The committee asked for ideas to be sent to them regarding the implementation of this organization.
Lillian, of course, had been thinking about this for a very long time and already had some pretty solid ideas about the organization of the school. After studying the Saskatchewan School Act she wrote out her plan for creating a Board of Directors and presented it to the committee. It was much of her blueprint that was presented to the brotherhood in July of 1945 and that eventually became Radville Christian College.
On September 16, 1946, high school classes began, with eleven students in Grades Nine through Twelve. Leo Seibel remembers that cold rainy afternoon when he was greeted at the door by Lillian Torkelson. It was the opening day of Radville Christian College:
This was the time in my life when I knew everything. In the next five years that idea diminished. I learned instead, that it was by hard work, hardship and sacrifice, dominated by Christianity that success came. Some who sat in her classroom didn't hear her, but hundreds more of us recognized the realities of life with her help. She has been my teacher, my mentor and my friend. May God bless her.
Lillian was never specifically asked to be the teacher nor was there ever a motion made to that effect; it was just assumed that she would be the teacher. She hated to leave Wawota but she had prayed fervently to be able to teach in a Christian school and there was really no deciding to do!
As excited as she was about the fulfillment of her dream, she had some adjusting to do. She was the only teacher, as well as the principal, girls' dormitory supervisor and sometime cook. There was no electricity, no running water, not even a telephone. It was real pioneer times all over again! She didn't even have a radio, so she was even unaware of what was going on out there in the world that interested her so. She didn't care about the hardships, but sometimes she felt so cut off it was like being on a desert island, or in a prison. She was certainly grateful when Mickel Jacobs gave her a radio that put her back in touch with the world!
Her home was a twelve by twelve bed-sitting room in the school building. The floor covering was rough boards that took her three to four hours to scrub and wax. Her bed was a small cot with a thin mattress on it, that doubled as a couch during the day. Her dresser consisted of two orange crates, and her clothes closet was a rod on the wall with a board on top. But, with some pretty cretonne, her own flair for decorating and her mother's skill with the needle, matching covers, curtains and valances transformed the orange crate decor into an attractive haven.
She has a favourite story about that little cot. It stayed with her all the time she was in Radville and moved with her to Weyburn. In spite of the skimpy mattress, she had gotten used to it and was quite comfortable on it. In the early sixties, Betty Roemer, missionary to Germany, was home after fifteen years and was Lillian's guest during Lectureship at WCC. Lillian gave Betty her best bed, the little cot, never dreaming it might not be comfortable for her.
Nor long after Lectureship, Ernest Andreas came to visit Lillian; Betty had given him some money to buy Lillian a decent bed, telling him she "couldn't see how Lillian could sleep comfortably on that bed!" Lillian appreciated the generosity, but it continues to amuse her that a missionary left money to buy her a more adequate bed! She didn't have any really decent furniture until she retired and had time to enjoy it.
She had no vehicle and was apprehensive about walking across the railway trestle (the short way), so the two mile walk to town gave her some precious time for reflection and relaxation. On Saturdays she would sometimes make the trip into town four times! She got used to the isolation and loved her life there. Another traditional activity on Saturday mornings, was the time she enjoyed spending with the girls, as they read novels to each other out loud. One would read while the others did various chores.
MUSINGS ABOUT MARRIAGE
The opening of Radville Christian College was a coming home for Lillian. Not only was it the fulfillment of her vision, it satisfied questions left in her own life. While she had enjoyed her life there had been a certain restlessness in her. Her girlhood friends had all married, and at times she thought she too, would like to have a husband and family. Over the years there had been a few young men that she cared about but either she knew they weren't what she wanted in a husband or they came on the scene at the wrong time in her life, when she had personal goals she hadn't yet realized.
There had also been one or two young men who let her know they were interested in her, but she knew she couldn't possibly be happy married to them, so, as she put it, she "froze them out". But the desire to marry remained, hence the restlessness. Once she moved to Radville, that restlessness disappeared. She suspects that some of the reason for that was her long held opinion that if you were going to marry, it should be done before age thirty. Her conviction was that after that you would be too set in your ways. So once she passed thirty, she began to accept and make the adjustment. the single life.
The overriding reason though, was, as she says, that "Radville became my husband and children". She had arrived at what she considered to be her mission. Although life was difficult at times and she had her share of problems and heartaches, she never considered giving it up. Instead, she viewed Radville with the same kind of commitment married people have to one another. They don't expect everything to be happy all the time, but approach their problems philosophically, believing "anybody worth his salt doesn't quit marriage because of difficult times."
She believes God has given everybody a task or mission, and that hers was working at Radville and later Western Christian College, teaching academic subjects in a Christian environment. She didn't make much money, but it was irrelevant because she was so completely contented doing something worthwhile and contributing to the cause of Christ.
She has often reflected that it was a good thing she wasn't married, especially during those early years, because she never would have been able to do what she did. She was on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the first four years of Radville's life. Although that meant she had no relief, working during the day in the classroom and at night in the dormitory, she really treasured the time she spent with those girls. Since there was sometimes no hired cook, so she occasionally helped with that as well. Sometimes she even shovelled coal at night to keep warm! Once again God had worked all things together for good, both for His work and for her personally.
As satisfied as she was with her new life at Radville, it certainly wasn't without problems. She candidly admits that her judgements and decisions were not always correct and reflecting on those mistakes still evokes feelings of regret. What is a comfort to her though, is her confidence that generally the students forgave her because they understood that her primary goal was to help and not harm them.
It is ironic that so few months after telling a friend to "shoot her" if she ever took another job as a principal, here she was back in the principal's office again. Fortunately her friend hadn't taken her literally! There was a great difference for her though, being principal responsible for a group of young people who were not only her students, but her brothers and sisters in Christ as well. It was so much easier to talk to them and reason with them from a common Christian perspective. They, as her childhood heroine Anne Shirley would have said, "belonged to the race that knew Joseph". While she had always enjoyed and respected her public school students, there was never the same kind of closeness she was able to develop with these young people who shared her deepest spiritual convictions.
She wanted desperately for everyone to succeed, and because she was the only instructor, teaching all the subjects in all four grades, she had to be very businesslike to complete the work. She learned to say a lot in fifteen minutes! Lois Orr (Olson) has a very clear mental picture of Miss Torkelson walking into the classroom with a pointer in one hand and an alarm clock in the other. (She also remembers Eugene Perry dressed up at a masquerade party as Miss T., also with pointer and alarm clock in hand; he was a huge success!) Lillian suspects that working at that high pitch made her stern and irritable. She's sure that few of those students found her classes interesting, at least until there were more teachers and longer class periods.
On a beautiful warm spring day in 1948, both Lillian and her students gained some new insight, each about the other. When she rang the one o'clock bell after lunch, no one appeared. In fact, there was no one to be seen anywhere. The whole student body had played hooky! Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. She was shocked and dismayed! She wasn't sure what to do, so she just waited. Forty minutes later she could see the students hesitantly making their way back to the school. She admired their courage in returning, because she was sure they were expecting, as she put it, a "hurricane of anger" on their return.
Instead, she rang the bell again and the students slowly came in and took their seats, looking very apprehensive. With no mention of the incident, Lillian proceeded with her planned lessons. She surely had attentive students that afternoon. They drank in every word she said! With no discussion, she tacked the missed time on to the end of the day, and school was forty minutes late dismissing that day. Never a word was said about the incident, either by her or by the students. Needless to say it never happened again.
Strangely, the atmosphere was different in the classroom after that, much more cooperative. She did discuss the incident with J.C. Bailey, and he suggested that maybe she'd been too rigid and expected too much of the students. As time passed she realized how true that was and that the temporary rebellion had probably let off a lot of steam. She's always wondered what it was that made them come back!
She has also wondered just how angry some students really were the night the power failed and she insisted on study hall by candlelight. (She didn't know what else to do with them!) . . . . or how Stewart Elford really felt when she made him wear a hat to class after some of his friends had clipped off all of his hair. She says, "I was scared! I thought the other boys would follow in his footsteps."
Just as in Oungre and Wawota, she again had occasional problems with some of the boys. They were always cooperative in school and in structured activities like sports and plays, probably because they knew she was acting in their best interest. In their free time though, some of them thought they should have less supervision and were uncooperative at times. That always bothered her. She suspects they thought she was too rigid and while they resented it - and maybe her, they put up with it because they were from Christian homes.
In all of her teaching career, she expelled only two students, and she has regretted that. She has often wished that a suspension, often used so successfully today, was a disciplinary option then. The two boys in question did something she had specifically prohibited and because she felt she could not allow deliberate disobedience they were expelled. She still regrets that action because she knows she could have handled it better, although she does accept that she did the best she knew to do at the time.
Everyone who has ever sat in Miss Torkelson's class knows very well that you don't talk back and you especially don't refuse to do your homework! She remembers one young man who didn't learn that lesson easily, and flat out refused to do his homework! She did everything under the sun trying to convince him that he had to do his homework, to no avail! Finally, in total exasperation, she told him he couldn't attend classes and was confined to his room in the dorm until he got his homework done. He could leave to go to meals, but must then immediately return to the dorm! Lawrence Anderson, the boys' supervisor, felt so badly about the situation that he managed to persuade the boy to change his ways and agree to do his homework!
After teaching all subjects to all grades for the first two years, she was most grateful when Cecil Bailey and Doris Lewis joined the staff in 1948! Another two years after that, she left the dormitory, not because she didn't like it, but because she was so very tired that she had to let something go. As much as she enjoyed the girls, she knew she was a better teacher than dormitory supervisor.
She bought a little earth house about two blocks from the school that was cold and unfinished and miserable. But she soon made it home and enjoyed living there until the school moved to Weyburn. Students were regular visitors and many have wonderful memories of evenings at Miss T's, reading novels and eating popcorn and fudge. They still talk about her fudge that she served with spoons - she never could get it to harden!
Her strong feelings about the importance of extracurricular activities continued at Radville. There was very little entertainment available, so they made their own. Walking was a regular activity for everyone. They played ball, they curled and they skated on the river in the winter in addition to a host of indoor activities. Lillian has described these years, as well as the years in Weyburn in her book, Radburn's Memoirs.
Wiener roasts were twice a year favourites, one in the fall and one in the spring, usually down the river a piece. She, along with the students, played games until dark and then hiked back to campus. One game of Run Sheep Run still sticks in her mind. "The group that was 'it' had found the sheep. Our leader yelled, 'run sheep run' and a terrific race followed. Finally, Bernard Straker from our team and a girl from the other team, who were 'it', were running neck and neck along the river toward the bridge. Then Bernard surprised us all by jumping into the river and swimming across to home base. He was the hero of the evening!"
With Lillian at the helm, drama became an important part of life at Radville. One year they presented ten one-act plays during the year; she remembers with delight Mary Bailey taking the lead in several of those plays and doing such a fine job. There were forty-five students that year and everyone participated at one time or another. There were no tryouts; Lillian hand-picked the actors and no one ever second guessed her choices. Over the years, she had adjudicators comment on how well the students fit their part.
Pipistrelle of Aquitaine was a highlight that year they did so many plays, and it was so good they decided to present it uptown in Radville. The curtains opened to a chess game in progress between the king and the duke (Jim Williams and Jelsing Bailey). Lillian was in her accustomed place in the front row of the audience. Just before the play began the students had realized that the chess board and men had been forgotten back on campus! There was certainly no time to go get them. For reasons we can only guess, they decided not to tell Miss Torkelson! The boys faked the chess game and did such a good job of it, she never even noticed the missing chessmen. When they told her after the play was over, she was absolutely delighted that they had fooled even her!
Because of her isolation from town and her busy routine, Lillian had little opportunity to socialize and make friends during those early years. Essentially her only friends were her fellow teachers and the members of the church in nearby Radville. Even those associations were limited by how very busy she was. She recalls that she made more friends in her first year in Weyburn than she had in all eleven years in Radville. Very precious to her though, is the lifelong friendship she developed with Doris Lewis during that time in Radville.
There was very little time for personal development during those Radville days either, although she seized every opportunity that came her way. In addition to her continued interest in politics, she looked forward to the annual teachers' conventions and the exchange of ideas and experiences that accompanied them. Times of spiritual enrichment were especially cherished. She looked forward to gospel meetings with great anticipation and particularly remembers Clinton Brazle and Don Morris holding meetings. ~
She persisted in her commitment to read God's Word daily. Most of the time she stayed in the New Testament, as did many other members of the church in those days. She liked the poetry and the history of the Old Testament, but found the prophets hard reading and tended to avoid it for a number of years. She did eventually read through the whole Bible. She was convinced then, as she is now, that her regular reading of God's Word has been one of the most significant factors of her remaining faithful to Him through the years..
She continued to make good use of her summers. Generally she filled them with a combination of travel, taking university classes and/or grading departmental exams. Some summers though, she needed to find work to supplement her income. She had, of course, taken a deep cut in salary when RCC opened; she received fifty dollars per month plus board and room. She was quite content with that, but sometimes unexpected expenses came up. One year she needed a new winter coat so she spent the summer working in a coat factory in Winnipeg. She not only made a little money, she was delighted to be able to get a really good coat at a discount.
Another summer she got a job in Regina cooking for three men, a daring move for someone who didn't consider herself much of a cook. Sometimes necessity causes people to take chances! She stayed with the Grasleys and Ruth helped her in the evenings with menus and recipes. Ruth remembers some of the amusing (and some not so amusing) things that happened that summer, "Lillian served the men in the dining room, but she ate in the kitchen. They smoked, drank, talked very coarsely - and Lillian was their maid! I'm sure they had no idea she was a professional with a degree. ... I thought she was a brave soul to try this."
Lillian did not ever consider herself to be a popular teacher. She considered it more important to gain the respect of her students than their affection. While she felt deeply about each of her students, she demanded their very best, sometimes to their dismay and frustration. She did notice, though, that she always became more popular after exam results came back! All Grade Eleven and Twelve students were required to write at least eight departmental exams in June; these were marked in Regina and her students did consistently well.
Over the years, some people accused her of emphasizing academics over spiritual matters. She acknowledges that while it's possible she did, she still doesn't think so. She believes strongly that the way we conduct our daily life and do our duty is a part of our spiritual growth. She tried to inculcate into the minds of her students the understanding that they should do even their daily school work to the best of their ability, as unto the Lord. She does concede though, that perhaps some of those students were not yet mature enough to make the connection between their studies and their Christian life.
She was always willing to forego the warm, loving, friendly relationship with her students, that she so cherished, whenever it got in the way of doing what she believed was in their best interest. Isn't it interesting, that in doing that, she gained not only their respect and gratitude, but their deep affection as well?
Published in The Old Paths Archive