This is an excerpt from a story in the Yakima (Wash.) local paper. To read the entire article, click here.
Donation helps build ‘God’s School’
by Phil Ferolito, Yakima Herald-Republic
HARRAH, Wash. — Judy Hunter has always been one to give.
For years, she’s helped the elderly get to stores and appointments and she doesn’t hesitate to buy them needed household items.
“She’s constantly taking care of the elderly,” said her daughter, Brenda Fisher.
Once around Christmas, she picked up a woman and three children walking in the cold, drove them to a store and gave them $150 to buy coats, Fisher remembers.
“This woman was flabbergasted,” she said. “She’s always in mother mode. It doesn’t matter how old you are, she thinks she’s your mother. She plays doctor to everyone and tries to solve their ailments — she’s definitely original.”
Now, the 66-year-old Yakama tribal member’s gift of giving is making history — well, at least in the small town of Harrah.
Hunter has donated most of her retirement savings — $1.5 million — to help build a 20,400-square-foot building for the Harrah Christian Community School. The rest of the cost, about $ 2.5 million is coming from a loan, which Hunter is now organizing a nonprofit foundation to repay.
God, she said, told her to build the new school, and it’s his plan unfolding.
“This is God’s school,” she said earlier this week as she walked through the newly erected building at the end of West Pioneer Street, a stone-throw away from the current school.
For nearly two decades, students at the private, nondenominational Christian school have shuffled between the former Grace Brethren Church and neighboring houses for classes serving preschoolers through eighth-graders.
Despite the makeshift setting, the school has become an important part of this town of about 630 residents, nestled amid hop fields and arid sagelands on the Yakama reservation.
But starting this fall, thanks to Hunter, its nearly 50 students from preschool to eighth grade will be taught under one roof.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Harrah resident Mindy Boisselle, whose three children attend the school. “I can’t wait, my kids can’t wait for it to open. It’s amazing.”
Her husband, Nicholas Boisselle, attended the school as a child.
“So this is second generation for us,” she said. “It’s an important piece of the community.”
Heather Lyon, who runs the Farm House Cafe in town, sends her two children to the school — one a kindergartner and the other a fifth-grader.
“I wouldn’t put them anywhere else,” she said.
Most of the walls are up, and crews are installing windows, electrical wiring, lighting and ducts for heating and air conditioning. Construction began in December and should be complete by the time classes begin in late August.
The new school will feature five large classrooms, a full-size gymnasium with bleachers and a basketball court, a kitchen, cafeteria, and library.
“That’s always been my dream, to have a place for them to play,” Hunter said as she strolled through the large gymnasium. “Before they would always have to go outside when it was cold or stay in the classroom.”
The school was founded in 1981 by three churches in town, Harrah Assembly of God, Harrah Community Church and Grace Brethren.
It was first housed in the Assembly of God, but moved into the Grace Brethren on Pioneer Street after the church built a new building.
But the building lacked most of the amenities of the new school, said Mayor Barbara Harrer, a member of the school’s board of directors.
“There was at times a space crisis because we could only get so many desks in a room,” she said.
It’s not clear what will come of the old school building. It was built at Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma, and moved to Harrah sometime in the late 1920s, Harrer said.
“Right now we don’t have any definite plans for it, but certainly there is a lot of space that could be put to good use,” said Grace Brethren pastor Peter Touhey.
He described Hunter as “amazing.”