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Lutheran Brethren High School


This is a story about a high school, called Hillcrest Academy. The school began in Wahpeton, moved to Grand Forks, and, eventually, moved again – to Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

The story began in 1903 when the Lutheran Brethren Church established a bible school in Wahpeton, renting a classroom at the Wahpeton high school. The school’s main goal was to train missionaries and send them forth.

Quickly outgrowing this cramped space, the church people built a boarding school in Wahpeton in 1904. Later, influential members in the national church wanted to add a high school, which they did in 1916. The response was enthusiastic, and the school got so many students that it began running out of dormitory space.

Consequently, school-administrators searched for a larger building, and found one in Grand Forks, the Aaker’s Business College building. On this date, in 1918, the Grand Forks Herald reported the transfer of the school to Grand Forks, a distance of 120 miles.

The school had planned to begin Fall classes on October 10th, but on October 9th, the City Health Officer, Dr. Henry O’Keefe, issued a citywide quarantine – because the worldwide influenza epidemic had hit North Dakota. O’Keefe closed every public-gathering-place – theaters, schools, and churches – for seven Churches had no worship services; movie theaters showed no films; libraries were locked; billiard rooms were abandoned; and school hallways stood empty.

The quarantine ended November 24th, so, finally, the Lutheran school held its first day of classes at the new location in Grand Forks.

This Lutheran-school thrived in the early 1920s, but the onset of the Great Depression caused severe financial stress. The school met its obligations, through thrift, extreme belt-tightening, and faithful teachers who worked for miniscule wages. Distressed, but ever hopeful, the school sold its Grand Forks building in 1935 and moved to Fergus Falls, 139 miles southeast, where they got a bargain-price on a bankrupted college’s building. Four-and-one-half stories tall, the magnificent red-brick building was a godsend.

The high school eventually got its own name, Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, in 1948. The academy reached its centennial-year in 2016, recalling its lengthy history – its genesis in Wahpeton; its 1918 transfer to Grand Forks; and its continuing development on the crest of a hill in Fergus Falls.

Wahpeton is just 28 miles from Fergus Falls. So, in reality, historic Hillcrest Academy moved only a short distance from its original North Dakota location.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Lutheran Brethren Will Open Bible School Here Soon,” Grand Forks Herald, October 18, 1918, p. 12.

“Bible School Of Lutherans To Come Here,” Grand Forks Herald, August 28, 1918, p. 8.

“Trustees Take Final Action In Bringing Lutheran School Here,” Grand Forks Herald, September 18, 1918, p. 10.

“Meetings Open For First Time In Seven Weeks,” Grand Forks Herald, November 26, 1918, p. 8.

“The Influenza Wave,” Grand Forks Herald, October 9, 1918, p. 4.

“Lutheran Bible School Opens for First Semester,” Grand Forks Herald, November 27, 1918, p. 12.

“New School Is Working,” Grand Forks Herald, November 26, 1918, p. 10.

“Bible School Program Given At Rotary Club,” Fergus Falls Daily Journal, September 19, 1935, p. 3.

“The Lutheran Bible School in New Quarters,” Faith And Fellowship, vol. 2, no. 9, (August, 1935), p. 5.

Steven R. Hoffbeck, Beacon On A Hill: Hillcrest Academy Hundred Year Book, From 1916-2016 (Fergus Falls: Hillcrest Lutheran Academy, to be released in 2017).