Pacific Christian Academy: 75 Years of Unselfish Service

by Stephen Davis

In the fall of 1993, Pacific Christian Academy will be 75 years old, a remarkable longevity considering that the school is located in one of the more obscure towns of Northern California – Graton – with a population of only 500. This longevity is not so remarkable when considering the spirit in which P.C.A. was originally founded and the extraordinary dedication of Christians who have supported the school’s motto of “unselfish service” throughout the years. In fact, if there is one theme that characterizes the contributions of P.C.A. to education and to society, it has been its encouragement of students to be good stewards with the gifts that God has provided and to follow Christ’s example of an unselfish servant. This attitude of unselfish servanthood was very much a part of P.C.A.’s earliest beginnings and is perpetuated among members of the board, teachers, parents, students, and friends of the school to this day.

Pacific Christian Academy had its beginning in 1918 with 16 students, one full-time teacher (Mrs. Ottis Scott) and four part-time volunteers at the E-Street Church of Christ in Santa Rosa. According to Scott “we closed the year with 32 pupils and ten dollars for my year’s teaching.”

In the second year, the school moved to its present campus in Graton, California. K.M. Barbour, Dell Davis (my grandfather), and Frank Davis each put up $500 to purchase the 4-acre property with its 3-room school building. The enrollment grew to 52 students. The next summer, the historic Marshall School building (built in the 1860’s) was purchased and moved to the P.C.A. campus, inserted underneath and attached to the original school building to make a two story structure, thus providing additional classrooms and a large auditorium.

By the fourth year (1921-22), the school and church had grown so large that the Graton church building was also moved to the P.C.A. campus, adding two classrooms to the school. In exchange, the Graton Church of Christ met in P.C.A.’s auditorium until a new church building could be constructed.

The first high school graduation class of P.C.A. was in 1923. O.W. Gardner was principal and my father, Ivan Davis, and several other relatives were members of the first graduating class.

These early years at P.C.A. are probably best summarized in the words of Ottis Scott. Her impressions are especially significant because she was one of the primary forces that brought the school into existence and she taught at P.C.A. during the school’s first eight years. In September 1926, Ottis left Graton with her husband, George, and daughter, Helen Pearl, for a life of mission work in Africa. The following quotation is taken from her 1955 description of the school’s beginnings. “I feel that since our work was free, or nearly so (I did get $20 per month the last year), we got much of the same kind of free work from the whole church, who shared with us and with each other. They would bring potatoes, under and over-sized eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, fowl, and – well, just all needed things. I never have seen such cooperation, such loyalty, such unselfishness, or more consecration to the Lord than with our big Graton church family. The school, I think, had seven teachers once, counting Kenneth Ross in music, and the highest enrollment – – around one hundred fifty. The church grew from thirty to three hundred. Now it seems that the P.C.A. Post with its compilers are our great grandchildren. Keep up the legacy that you have inherited in this dear old school, and may it go on blessing both young and old.

One of the more challenging periods in P.C.A.’s history was the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The school could not provide much of a salary for its teachers nor could it supply some of the educational materials for its students, but the school remained open because of the generosity, sacrifice, and dedication of many people. Two such people were Herman and Elsie Wilson, recent graduates at the time from Harding College in Arkansas. They were looking for a teaching position in 1933 when they learned of the request for a young couple to come work with P.C.A. They were interested in the position because they had met a number of fine young people who had come to Harding from P.C.A. But understandably, they were concerned about the ability of P.C.A. to provide a salary, as seen in the following quotation by Herman and Elsie Wilson in 1988.

Bro. Hayes had said that “the school could not promise much in the way of salary, but would guarantee that we’d not go hungry! The good people at Graton did not fail to show their love and appreciation. We headed west in our ‘29 Ford Roadster across the sweltering desert with all of our earthly possessions and three year old son Allan. We arrived in Graton July 1, 1933, and were immediately given a warm welcome and a shower of produce, canned fruits, jellies and other good things from the thrifty housewives. We have lived in many places since those two years at P.C.A., but never have we been more warmly welcomed or shown more love and generosity than in those early days at P.C.A. Although our son Allan, who was only three years old when we moved to Graton, was not in the school, he loved all the teachers and children there and felt that he was one of them. He played school at home and pretended the children there were in his class! After all these years we still think of Graton and P.C.A. as one of the best places we have ever known. We were really proud to serve there for a time!”

My personal memories of P.C.A. postdate the Great Depression and World War II. I was born in 1944 and attended P.C.A. from 1950 through 1962. During this period, two new school buildings were added, a large multipurpose building with gymnasium and classrooms were constructed, and the athletic fields were expanded. What was most significant to me, however, was not the addition of new buildings, but the manner in which they came into being—via the hard labor of many local Christians who volunteered their money, time, and energy. I recall the many hours that my father, uncles, brother-in-laws, and others put into the design and construction of the new school buildings. The long hours of toil would often extend into the night when light bulbs were hung from extension cords to facilitate the continuation of work.

I also recall the quilting ladies, the cake sales, the rummage sales, the queen contests, the literary programs, the box-dinner auctions, pie auctions, plant sales, and the numerous other fund-raising activities. I remember spending days pasting massive amounts of Blue Chip Stamps in booklets that were donated to the school for the purchase of our first school bus. This rather unusual fund-raising idea was proposed, promoted, and successfully carried out by a P.C.A. alumnus, then a college student at Pepperdine College, named Charles Lanier (currently the principal of P.C.A.). However, my most vivid recollection of that period was the heroic efforts of gifted teachers who obviously loved their students and their Lord and became living models of unselfish servants to all—Ethel Lanier, Noble Rogers, Charles Polley, Agnes Polley, Richard Osborne, John Bessier, Patty Stine, Verna Stine, Everet Nicholas, Lester Brittell, Glenn Moreland, Nell Grady and Aquilla Fox.

P.C.A.’s 75 years have contributed much to the ideals of a value-centered education with an emphasis on Christ’s example of unselfish service. All of its graduates have been better prepared to serve society with integrity. Many of its graduates have been inspired to become missionaries, preachers, teachers, and church leaders. Some continued their education at other Christian schools such as Columbia Christian College, Pepperdine University, Abilene Christian University, and Harding University. Like Herman Wilson before me, I chose to serve as a Christian educator at the college level and feel privileged to currently be a professor of biology at Pepperdine University.

In the second year of operation, P.C.A. moved into this 3-room school building in Graton.

The first high school graduating class in May 1923. Back row (l to r) Harold Davis, Elden Stine, Francis Parham, Ivan Davis, and Athol Crowson. Front row (l to r) Theda Bailer Davis, Ethel Wiggins Dyke, O.W. Gardner (Principal), Dorothy Davis, and Mildred Barbour Davis.

In this view of a corner of the P.C.A. campus, the multipurpose building is on the right and the meetinghouse of the Graton Church of Christ (established 1909) is in the center of the photo.


(Editor’s Note: Dr. Stephen Davis has been a professor of biology at Seaver College since 1974, and is a recent recipient of the Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award. We asked him to write this personal memoir of his alma mater. Pacific Christian Academy will celebrate its 75th anniversary with homecoming festivities in Graton on July 31st.)