Four-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher Wendy Onjukka leads Heidi-Ho students in the grande finale song during Heidi-Ho’s 40th birthday celebration events Thursday. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Forty years ago Doris Eakin Brown was searching for a kindergarten in La Grande for the youngest of her two sons.
None of the kindergartens had openings, so Brown opened a door to a new world.
Brown decided to start a Christian kindergarten in the basement of the First Baptist Church of La Grande.
Little did she know that her decision in 1973 would be saluted four decades later. The school Brown founded, Heidi Ho Christian Preschool and Kindergarten, marked its 40th anniversary with celebrations both Wednesday and Thursday night.
There was a lot to celebrate as the school is now one of the oldest and most successful private schools in La Grande, one that serves between 150 and 160 children, has eight teachers and 30 employees.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I think it would become this,’’ said Brown, who said she also started the school because she wanted to teach kindergarten.
Brown, who served as the school’s director for its first 24 years, was saluted at the school’s spring music programs.
“I’m thrilled that the school is flourishing,’’ Brown said.
The school’s recent steps forward included the addition of an art and a music teacher and new classes for parents on marriage and parenting.
The school is moving forward while continuing to meet the two primary objectives Brown had for it when it opened — provide quality academic instruction, which is combined with the teaching of the principles of God’s word.
“She really carried through,’’ said Don McLean, the school’s director, speaking of the work Brown did to meet her objectives.
Heidi Ho opened in 1973, 16 years before most public schools in Oregon began offering kindergarten. The only public school that offered kindergarten in La Grande was the old Ackerman Lab School at Eastern Oregon University. Ackerman’s kindergarten was always filled to capacity, so much so that a lottery was conducted each year to determine which children could attend.
All of La Grande’s public schools began offering kindergarten in 1989, the year a law requiring all pubic schools in Oregon to offer kindergarten took effect. This cut into Heidi Ho’s enrollment but Brown said this was actually helpful because the school’s enrollment was taxing its capacity. The loss of kindergarten students created space needed to start a successful day care program.
Brown credits the success of Heidi Ho to the excellent teachers and staff it’s had through the years.
“God has always provided a good staff,’’ Brown said.
She stressed that support from the First Baptist Church has played a role in Heidi Ho’s success.
“Without the church we would not be here,’’ Brown said.