In July of 1944, the annual three day meeting of churches of Christ in Saskatchewan, usually held in Radville, was held that year at Wawota, near the Husband farm. This annual meeting was somewhat of a forerunner of the present day Lectureship held at Western Christian College on Thanksgiving weekend.
During that meeting, Cecil Bailey got up and spoke passionately in
favour of establishing a Christian high school, or at the very least,
more than the four month winter Bible schools J.C. Bailey and
Wilfred Orr were holding in Radville. He supported the idea of a year
long Bible school that would lead eventually to a high school as well.
This was the dream he and Lavine and Lillian had discussed back in
Oungre in the late thirties and nurtured many, many nights until the
wee hours of the morning.
During the intervening years, there had also been times when Signe
and Hector MacLeod, and Pearl and Wilfred Orr had joined them in
discussing their longings for such a school. Lillian talks about their
reasons in her book, A Vision Splendid. This dream of a residential
high school was the reason Cecil was working so furiously to get his
university degree. He, as well as Lillian, wanted to be ready and
equipped to teach.
This plea of Cecil's was the first public speech made in favour of this
kind of organization. He was surprised and delighted that enthusiastic
interest was immediately voiced. Wilfred proposed a meeting in
Radville on Thanksgiving weekend in October, for the purpose of
putting together an organization to follow through on the idea. That
meeting was held; a committee of three - Cecil Bailey, Hector
MacLeod and Wilfred Orr, was chosen to study different methods of
organizing such a school and to bring a report to the next three day
meeting the following July. The committee asked for ideas to be sent
to them regarding the implementation of this organization.
Lillian, of course, had been thinking about this for a very long time
and already had some pretty solid ideas about the organization of the
school. After studying the Saskatchewan School Act she wrote out
her plan for creating a Board of Directors and presented it to the
committee. It was much of her blueprint that was presented to the
brotherhood in July of 1945 and that eventually became Radville
On September 16, 1946, high school classes began, with eleven students in Grades Nine through Twelve. Leo Seibel remembers that cold rainy afternoon when he was greeted at the door by Lillian Torkelson. It was the opening day of Radville Christian College:
This was the time in my life when I knew everything. In the
next five years that idea diminished. I learned instead, that it
was by hard work, hardship and sacrifice, dominated by
Christianity that success came. Some who sat in her classroom
didn't hear her, but hundreds more of us recognized the
realities of life with her help. She has been my teacher, my
mentor and my friend. May God bless her.
Lillian was never specifically asked to be the teacher nor was there
ever a motion made to that effect; it was just assumed that she would
be the teacher. She hated to leave Wawota but she had prayed
fervently to be able to teach in a Christian school and there was really
no deciding to do!
As excited as she was about the fulfillment of her dream, she had
some adjusting to do. She was the only teacher, as well as the
principal, girls' dormitory supervisor and sometime cook. There was
no electricity, no running water, not even a telephone. It was real
pioneer times all over again! She didn't even have a radio, so she was
even unaware of what was going on out there in the world that
interested her so. She didn't care about the hardships, but sometimes
she felt so cut off it was like being on a desert island, or in a prison.
She was certainly grateful when Mickel Jacobs gave her a radio that
put her back in touch with the world!
Her home was a twelve by twelve bed-sitting room in the school
building. The floor covering was rough boards that took her three to
four hours to scrub and wax. Her bed was a small cot with a thin
mattress on it, that doubled as a couch during the day. Her dresser
consisted of two orange crates, and her clothes closet was a rod on
the wall with a board on top. But, with some pretty cretonne, her own
flair for decorating and her mother's skill with the needle, matching
covers, curtains and valances transformed the orange crate decor into
an attractive haven.
She has a favourite story about that little cot. It stayed with her all the
time she was in Radville and moved with her to Weyburn. In spite of
the skimpy mattress, she had gotten used to it and was quite
comfortable on it. In the early sixties, Betty Roemer, missionary to
Germany, was home after fifteen years and was Lillian's guest during
Lectureship at WCC. Lillian gave Betty her best bed, the little cot,
never dreaming it might not be comfortable for her.
Nor long after Lectureship, Ernest Andreas came to visit Lillian;
Betty had given him some money to buy Lillian a decent bed, telling
him she "couldn't see how Lillian could sleep comfortably on that
bed!" Lillian appreciated the generosity, but it continues to amuse her
that a missionary left money to buy her a more adequate bed! She
didn't have any really decent furniture until she retired and had time
to enjoy it.
She had no vehicle and was apprehensive about walking across the
railway trestle (the short way), so the two mile walk to town gave her
some precious time for reflection and relaxation. On Saturdays she
would sometimes make the trip into town four times! She got used to
the isolation and loved her life there. Another traditional activity on
Saturday mornings, was the time she enjoyed spending with the girls,
as they read novels to each other out loud. One would read while the
others did various chores.
MUSINGS ABOUT MARRIAGE
The opening of Radville Christian College was a coming home for Lillian. Not only was it the fulfillment of her vision, it satisfied questions left in her own life. While she had enjoyed her life there had been a certain restlessness in her. Her girlhood friends had all married, and at times she thought she too, would like to have a husband and family. Over the years there had been a few young men that she cared about but either she knew they weren't what she wanted in a husband or they came on the scene at the wrong time in her life, when she had personal goals she hadn't yet realized.
There had also been one or two young men who let her know they
were interested in her, but she knew she couldn't possibly be happy
married to them, so, as she put it, she "froze them out". But the desire
to marry remained, hence the restlessness. Once she moved to
Radville, that restlessness disappeared. She suspects that some of the
reason for that was her long held opinion that if you were going to
marry, it should be done before age thirty. Her conviction was that
after that you would be too set in your ways. So once she passed
thirty, she began to accept and make the adjustment. the single life.
The overriding reason though, was, as she says, that "Radville
became my husband and children". She had arrived at what she
considered to be her mission. Although life was difficult at times and
she had her share of problems and heartaches, she never considered
giving it up. Instead, she viewed Radville with the same kind of
commitment married people have to one another. They don't expect
everything to be happy all the time, but approach their problems
philosophically, believing "anybody worth his salt doesn't quit
marriage because of difficult times."
She believes God has given everybody a task or mission, and that
hers was working at Radville and later Western Christian College,
teaching academic subjects in a Christian environment. She didn't
make much money, but it was irrelevant because she was so
completely contented doing something worthwhile and contributing
to the cause of Christ.
She has often reflected that it was a good thing she wasn't married,
especially during those early years, because she never would have
been able to do what she did. She was on duty twenty-four hours a
day, seven days a week for the first four years of Radville's life.
Although that meant she had no relief, working during the day in the
classroom and at night in the dormitory, she really treasured the time
she spent with those girls. Since there was sometimes no hired cook,
so she occasionally helped with that as well. Sometimes she even
shovelled coal at night to keep warm! Once again God had worked
all things together for good, both for His work and for her personally.
As satisfied as she was with her new life at Radville, it certainly wasn't without problems. She candidly admits that her judgements and decisions were not always correct and reflecting on those mistakes still evokes feelings of regret. What is a comfort to her though, is her confidence that generally the students forgave her because they understood that her primary goal was to help and not harm them.
It is ironic that so few months after telling a friend to "shoot her" if
she ever took another job as a principal, here she was back in the
principal's office again. Fortunately her friend hadn't taken her
literally! There was a great difference for her though, being principal
responsible for a group of young people who were not only her
students, but her brothers and sisters in Christ as well. It was so much
easier to talk to them and reason with them from a common Christian
perspective. They, as her childhood heroine Anne Shirley would have
said, "belonged to the race that knew Joseph". While she had always
enjoyed and respected her public school students, there was never the
same kind of closeness she was able to develop with these young
people who shared her deepest spiritual convictions.
She wanted desperately for everyone to succeed, and because she was
the only instructor, teaching all the subjects in all four grades, she had
to be very businesslike to complete the work. She learned to say a lot
in fifteen minutes! Lois Orr (Olson) has a very clear mental picture
of Miss Torkelson walking into the classroom with a pointer in one
hand and an alarm clock in the other. (She also remembers Eugene
Perry dressed up at a masquerade party as Miss T., also with pointer
and alarm clock in hand; he was a huge success!) Lillian suspects that
working at that high pitch made her stern and irritable. She's sure that
few of those students found her classes interesting, at least until there
were more teachers and longer class periods.
On a beautiful warm spring day in 1948, both Lillian and her students
gained some new insight, each about the other. When she rang the
one o'clock bell after lunch, no one appeared. In fact, there was no
one to be seen anywhere. The whole student body had played hooky!
Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. She was shocked
and dismayed! She wasn't sure what to do, so she just waited. Forty
minutes later she could see the students hesitantly making their way
back to the school. She admired their courage in returning, because
she was sure they were expecting, as she put it, a "hurricane of
anger" on their return.
Instead, she rang the bell again and the students slowly came in and
took their seats, looking very apprehensive. With no mention of the
incident, Lillian proceeded with her planned lessons. She surely had
attentive students that afternoon. They drank in every word she said!
With no discussion, she tacked the missed time on to the end of the
day, and school was forty minutes late dismissing that day. Never a
word was said about the incident, either by her or by the students.
Needless to say it never happened again.
Strangely, the atmosphere was different in the classroom after that,
much more cooperative. She did discuss the incident with J.C. Bailey,
and he suggested that maybe she'd been too rigid and expected too
much of the students. As time passed she realized how true that was
and that the temporary rebellion had probably let off a lot of steam.
She's always wondered what it was that made them come back!
She has also wondered just how angry some students really were the
night the power failed and she insisted on study hall by candlelight.
(She didn't know what else to do with them!) . . . . or how Stewart
Elford really felt when she made him wear a hat to class after some
of his friends had clipped off all of his hair. She says, "I was scared!
I thought the other boys would follow in his footsteps."
Just as in Oungre and Wawota, she again had occasional problems
with some of the boys. They were always cooperative in school and
in structured activities like sports and plays, probably because they
knew she was acting in their best interest. In their free time though,
some of them thought they should have less supervision and were
uncooperative at times. That always bothered her. She suspects they
thought she was too rigid and while they resented it - and maybe her,
they put up with it because they were from Christian homes.
In all of her teaching career, she expelled only two students, and she
has regretted that. She has often wished that a suspension, often used
so successfully today, was a disciplinary option then. The two boys
in question did something she had specifically prohibited and because
she felt she could not allow deliberate disobedience they were
expelled. She still regrets that action because she knows she could
have handled it better, although she does accept that she did the best
she knew to do at the time.
Everyone who has ever sat in Miss Torkelson's class knows very well that you don't talk back and you especially don't refuse to do your homework! She remembers one young man who didn't learn that lesson easily, and flat out refused to do his homework! She did everything under the sun trying to convince him that he had to do his homework, to no avail! Finally, in total exasperation, she told him he couldn't attend classes and was confined to his room in the dorm until he got his homework done. He could leave to go to meals, but must then immediately return to the dorm! Lawrence Anderson, the boys' supervisor, felt so badly about the situation that he managed to persuade the boy to change his ways and agree to do his homework!
After teaching all subjects to all grades for the first two years, she was most grateful when Cecil Bailey and Doris Lewis joined the staff in 1948! Another two years after that, she left the dormitory, not because she didn't like it, but because she was so very tired that she had to let something go. As much as she enjoyed the girls, she knew she was a better teacher than dormitory supervisor.
She bought a little earth house about two blocks from the school that
was cold and unfinished and miserable. But she soon made it home
and enjoyed living there until the school moved to Weyburn. Students
were regular visitors and many have wonderful memories of evenings
at Miss T's, reading novels and eating popcorn and fudge. They still
talk about her fudge that she served with spoons - she never could get
it to harden!
Her strong feelings about the importance of extracurricular activities
continued at Radville. There was very little entertainment available,
so they made their own. Walking was a regular activity for everyone.
They played ball, they curled and they skated on the river in the
winter in addition to a host of indoor activities. Lillian has described
these years, as well as the years in Weyburn in her book, Radburn's
Wiener roasts were twice a year favourites, one in the fall and one in
the spring, usually down the river a piece. She, along with the
students, played games until dark and then hiked back to campus.
One game of Run Sheep Run still sticks in her mind.
"The group that was 'it' had found the sheep. Our leader yelled,
'run sheep run' and
a terrific race followed. Finally, Bernard Straker from our team and
a girl from the other team, who were 'it', were running neck and neck
along the river toward the bridge. Then Bernard surprised us all by
jumping into the river and swimming across to home base. He was
the hero of the evening!"
With Lillian at the helm, drama became an important part of life at
Radville. One year they presented ten one-act plays during the year;
she remembers with delight Mary Bailey taking the lead in several of
those plays and doing such a fine job. There were forty-five students
that year and everyone participated at one time or another. There
were no tryouts; Lillian hand-picked the actors and no one ever
second guessed her choices. Over the years, she had adjudicators
comment on how well the students fit their part.
Pipistrelle of Aquitaine was a highlight that year they did so many
plays, and it was so good they decided to present it uptown in
Radville. The curtains opened to a chess game in progress between
the king and the duke (Jim Williams and Jelsing Bailey). Lillian was
in her accustomed place in the front row of the audience. Just before
the play began the students had realized that the chess board and men
had been forgotten back on campus! There was certainly no time to
go get them. For reasons we can only guess, they decided not to tell
Miss Torkelson! The boys faked the chess game and did such a good
job of it, she never even noticed the missing chessmen. When they
told her after the play was over, she was absolutely delighted that
they had fooled even her!
Because of her isolation from town and her busy routine, Lillian had
little opportunity to socialize and make friends during those early
years. Essentially her only friends were her fellow teachers and the
members of the church in nearby Radville. Even those associations
were limited by how very busy she was. She recalls that she made
more friends in her first year in Weyburn than she had in all eleven
years in Radville. Very precious to her though, is the lifelong
friendship she developed with Doris Lewis during that time in
There was very little time for personal development during those
Radville days either, although she seized every opportunity that came
her way. In addition to her continued interest in politics, she looked
forward to the annual teachers' conventions and the exchange of ideas
and experiences that accompanied them. Times of spiritual
enrichment were especially cherished. She looked forward to gospel
meetings with great anticipation and particularly remembers Clinton
Brazle and Don Morris holding meetings.
She persisted in her commitment to read God's Word daily. Most of
the time she stayed in the New Testament, as did many other
members of the church in those days. She liked the poetry and the
history of the Old Testament, but found the prophets hard reading and
tended to avoid it for a number of years. She did eventually read
through the whole Bible. She was convinced then, as she is now, that
her regular reading of God's Word has been one of the most
significant factors of her remaining faithful to Him through the
She continued to make good use of her summers. Generally she filled
them with a combination of travel, taking university classes and/or
grading departmental exams. Some summers though, she needed to
find work to supplement her income. She had, of course, taken a deep
cut in salary when RCC opened; she received fifty dollars per month
plus board and room. She was quite content with that, but sometimes
unexpected expenses came up. One year she needed a new winter
coat so she spent the summer working in a coat factory in Winnipeg.
She not only made a little money, she was delighted to be able to get
a really good coat at a discount.
Another summer she got a job in Regina cooking for three men, a
daring move for someone who didn't consider herself much of a cook.
Sometimes necessity causes people to take chances! She stayed with
the Grasleys and Ruth helped her in the evenings with menus and
recipes. Ruth remembers some of the amusing (and some not so
amusing) things that happened that summer, "Lillian served the men
in the dining room, but she ate in the kitchen. They smoked, drank,
talked very coarsely - and Lillian was their maid! I'm sure they had
no idea she was a professional with a degree. ... I thought she was a
brave soul to try this."
Lillian did not ever consider herself to be a popular teacher. She
considered it more important to gain the respect of her students than
their affection. While she felt deeply about each of her students, she
demanded their very best, sometimes to their dismay and frustration.
She did notice, though, that she always became more popular after
exam results came back! All Grade Eleven and Twelve students were
required to write at least eight departmental exams in June; these
were marked in Regina and her students did consistently well.
Over the years, some people accused her of emphasizing academics
over spiritual matters. She acknowledges that while it's possible she
did, she still doesn't think so. She believes strongly that the way we
conduct our daily life and do our duty is a part of our spiritual
growth. She tried to inculcate into the minds of her students the
understanding that they should do even their daily school work to the
best of their ability, as unto the Lord. She does concede though, that
perhaps some of those students were not yet mature enough to make
the connection between their studies and their Christian life.
She was always willing to forego the warm, loving, friendly relationship with her students, that she so cherished, whenever it got in the way of doing what she believed was in their best interest. Isn't it interesting, that in doing that, she gained not only their respect and gratitude, but their deep affection as well?