History of Holbrook Indian School

From the one building mission school that opened its doors in 1946 as “SDA Mission School,” Holbrook Seventh-day Adventist Indian School (HIS) has grown into a modern facility that has kept pace with today’s technology and education standards.

Elder and Mrs.Walter waving goodbye as they leave Glendale, CA for a new mission post among the Navajos

Elder and Mrs.Walter waving goodbye as they leave Glendale, CA for a new mission post among the Navajos

The school’s history began in 1916 with Elder Orno Follett and his wife doing mission work among the Navajos. A school was built in Lake Grove mission in New Mexico in 1918, but it was closed in 1937 due to the Great Depression and a shortage of funds.

According to the “Mission to the Navajos” written by Betty Stirling, published in 1961, “In 1941 the church again remembered the Navajos as among those of every ‘kindred, tribe, and nation.’”  The Arizona SDA Conference became concerned about doing something for the growing tribes within the conference’s borders.  

Early student transportation

Early student transportation

A full-time evangelist was hired for the job, Marvin Walter, whose wife, Gwen was a registered nurse.  It was not until 1945 that enough money was raised to build a school again. With three hundred twenty acres in Holbrook, the mission school term started in 1946 with 30 students, one teacher, and two deans.  The schoolroom had no desks that year, and the children sat on rugs and sheepskins to recite their lessons.

The old administration building containing offices and classrooms

The old administration building containing offices and classrooms

The schools’ third year fell on hard times when the Walters had to leave due to illness.  It closed at the end of March, but the conference decided to re-open it again on a trial basis.  Frank Daugherty, Ardell Altman, and Wilfred Rathburn were called to serve at the school.

Throughout the years the school has continued to grow.  Today the campus has an updated education building for the high school.  Elementary still meets at one end of the Administration building. The church, although older, allows for a perfect meeting place. The agriculture program is growing with organically grown produce being served in the cafeteria and sold to staff and community members.  The Horse program is a favorite along with welding, woodworking, and auto mechanics.  The Indigenous Arts Program involves the students in pottery design, graphic arts, drawing, beading, and weaving.  

Holbrook Indian School campus has advanced a long way from a frame multi-use building and a collection of outbuildings when a windmill, providing the water supply, towered over the dusty high desert country.  Today the more modern equipped facilities, with attractive landscaping, meet the students’ needs comfortably and provide a safe and inviting environment.

The school is funded 20 percent by the Pacific Union Conference and 80 percent by donations from individuals who have a heart for Native American youth and Christian education. The school is accredited by the North American Division Commission on Accreditation of the Adventist Accreditation Association, Inc. and, the Regional Accrediting Agency.

Holbrook Indian School students in the 1970's

Holbrook Indian School students in the 1970's

Aerial view of Holbrook Indian School today

Aerial view of Holbrook Indian School today