by Jim Bulls
Whenever you enter Reedley, from whatever direction, there are a multitude of landmarks reminding you that this is your hometown. Over the next few months, I’m going to be writing about at least three local landmarks. Some of them have the (dubious) honor of appearing about the same time I came to Reedley, but more about those later. I’m going to start with Immanuel Schools.
I was the first kid to live on Hemlock Avenue. In the mid-1940s, Hemlock was considered the suburbs of Reedley. My nearest playmates were Jim and Ken Peters who lived across Manning Avenue just behind Joe Malwood’s grocery store. Heinz, Ron, Marlena and Don Goertzen lived on Myrtle, and Nathan Willems lived next door. Nathan’s cousin, Johnny, lived down on Columbia. Stanley Nickel lived near the corner of Manning and East Ave. and Butch Chamberlin lived on the corner of Columbia and Manning. With the exception of Butch and myself, the one thing all my friends had in common was that they went to the Mennonite Brethren Church.
We were all together from kindergarten through the eighth grade, and I learned a lot about the doctrines of their church just by being around them and their families. When we graduated from General Grant, some of us went on to Reedley High School and some entered high school at Immanuel.
Immanuel Bible School Academy dates back to 1925. That is when Rev. David Wiebe invited 31 students who were members of the Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church to participate in a two year, Bible-based educational program. During the first year the students had courses in Bible history, the life of Christ, German I and II, world history, psychology, music, church doctrine, public speaking and literature. During the second year learning the business of being a Sunday school worker was stressed. After completion of the two-year course, some students finished up at Reedley High School, while some went on to other endeavors.
The school was located on the Mennonite Brethren property, where the current church sits at 13th and L streets. There were two buildings, one for administration and one for classrooms.
About this same time evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson was holding revivals throughout California, including a visit to the Church of God Christian Campground. Sister Aimee so impressed some of the Mennonite parishioners that they split from the Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church (RMBC) to form the South Reedley Mennonite Brethren (South RMBC) congregation. This group rented the old Reedley High School building on Reed and Dinuba avenues to use as a church. This congregation also opened their own Bible-based school. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Immanuel Bible Academy closed, in part due to the split in the church congregation.
In 1937, the RMBC reopened Immanuel Academy, and for a while there were two Mennonite academies in Reedley. The South RMBC congregation purchased property and built a church in Dinuba. Their building, the former high school, was sold to doctors Geade and Wiebe, who formed the Reedley Hospital Board and Reedley’s first hospital.
Shortly after this the two Bible academies merged and classes were held in buildings on the RMBC property. Not long after that, the Mennonite churches of Reedley and Dinuba, plus the Zion Mennonite Brethren Church, began looking for property so the school could be located on its own campus.
Those congregations were able to locate some hallowed ground for their new Immanuel campus – the former Church of God Christian Campground. The land was purchased, the old tabernacle disassembled for useful materials. These were added to $42,000 in new materials, along with $20,000 of donated labor. Immanuel Bible Academy, overlooking the Kings River, became a new landmark in Reedley.
This new Immanuel offered a four-year program. Added to the original curriculum were English I, II, III, U.S. history, constitution, general science, biology, chemistry, homemaking, girls and boys chorus and mixed choir, band, art I, II, III, and physical education. Immanuel held their first graduation in 1946.
As the war effort was winding down following World War II, a large amount of military equipment and many former military buildings were sold off as war surplus. Most of the buildings located at Hammer Field in Fresno were sold off and moved–benefiting nearly every school district in the valley. Immanuel Academy receiving a building large enough to be converted to a gymnasium. This greatly added to the sports program, although during the draft era, only non-contact sports like basketball, tennis and baseball were allowed. Immanuel would become part of the East Sierra League in 1955.
This brings me to a bit of history never before written. As I said earlier, in 1956 we went our separate ways to our respective high schools, but as we got our driver’s licenses we were reunited down on main street, showing off our cars. The kids at Reedley High School had an open campus and could drag main at lunch time. One day, while riding around in the back seat of a big, black Jaguar sedan with a bunch of other guys, I found myself cruising through Immanuel High’s campus. The cafeteria had yet to be built, and most of the students were sitting on the lawn eating lunch. The owner of the Jag, stood up through the sun roof, pointed to the heavens and proclaimed “I see God” at the top of his voice. We thought we were pretty cool…until the next morning at school.
All the classrooms were locked and when the last bell sounded for first period, the student body was ushered into the auditorium for an impromptu assembly. I took my assigned seat between Gracie Brandt and Elaine Buxman (two Mennonite girls, but a little bit “racy” for the Immanuel crowd). Mr. Goodwin got up and chewed each and every one of us out, up one side and down the other – the entire student body got an ear full. After the riot act, it was lunch time and time for us to drag main, but the campus gates were locked! And that, my friends, is when Reedley High became a “closed” campus.
In those days, once a young man reached the age of 18, he had to register for the draft. I was one of the oldest kids in my class, so I had this honor during my junior year. Not long after that the Cuban Missile crises occurred and the lump in my throat fell into the pit of my stomach. The realization slapped me in the face – I could actually be drafted! After graduation in 1961 some of us started at Reedley College, some joined the service, and some of the Mennonite kids like Eldon “Lefty” Ediger, Stan Nickel and Ken Peters went to work at state hospitals.
It was President Nixon who signed into law the bill that ended the draft system and the last man to be drafted was in December 1972. Immanuel Academy played their first East Sierra League football game in 1974.
In 1977, Immanuel Bible School Academy officially became Immanuel High School. In 1991, Immanuel Junior High School was opened with sixth grade being added in 1999. In 2004, Immanuel purchased the old Windsor school building located on Mt. View Avenue and added grades K-5, making Immanuel Schools a K-12 school district. The Windsor campus has been sold to the Hispanic congregation that once occupied the old Just Furniture Store on the corner of 10th and G streets, and the K-8 classes now meet on the high school campus.Immanuel’s sports program is outstanding – they have a championship caliber team in almost every sport they participate in. They have won 51 central section championships and at least three state championships. Although the school helped to finance the new all-weather track and field at Reedley High School, it appears that they will soon have their own sports facility located on the former Kings View Hospital grounds. (More about this in the future.)
The Immanuel High School is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Once the majority of students at Immanuel were from the Mennonite denomination, but now Mennonites comprise less than half of the entire student body. The students come from 19 communities, three counties and from more than 70 different churches. Tuition ranges from $5400 (elementary) to $7900 (high school), and average class sizes are 18-20.
The mission of the Immanuel Schools is “To equip students to serve God and neighbor with mind, body and soul, based on a Christ-centered foundation.” Except for that short time during the Great Depression, Immanuel has been equipping students to serve for nearly 90 years.
For more local and California history articles, including more Reedley history articles by Jim, be sure and check out our Hometown History section.