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Local

Newton Christian celebrates 60th anniversary

For Slings, event is a homecoming

The exterior of the Newton Christian School. The school, which has been at its current location since 2011 
is celebrating its 60th anniversary this week.
The exterior of the Newton Christian School. The school, which has been at its current location since 2011 is celebrating its 60th anniversary this week.

Life has a way of coming full circle at times, and when the Rev. Larry Slings steps up to the pulpit at Newton Christian School on Sunday morning he’ll be right back where he started. Slings, a resident of Hudsonville, Mich., is a graduate of the first eighth grade class at Newton Christian, and as the school celebrates its 60th anniversary this week he’ll be back in town.

Founded in 1957, the Newton Christian School was created when residents saw an opportunity for faith based education in the Newton area. Jasper County residents formed a committee, and after becoming licensed by the state of Iowa, opened for business in 1957. Starting off with just 11 students and a single teacher, the school now has 77 full-time students enrolled this year. To celebrate the school’s 60th anniversary staff members have planned a number of events. During the week, students will celebrate by dressing up in 1950s attire, Wednesday they’ll create a time capsule to be opened at the 100th anniversary, Thursday will feature a ribbon cutting ceremony with chamber of commerce officials at 11:15 a.m., with events culminating with at open house Saturday morning, followed by the school’s annual carnival. On Sunday morning, there will be a service at the school, led by Slings.

For Slings, who’d been attending a one room schoolhouse outside of Newton, having grades kindergarten through eighth together just enhanced the experience. By 1958, enrollment had risen to the point where the school was able to hire a second teacher.

“Even though we had two teachers that second year, we were still helping out,” Slings said. “I got to help teach my younger sister how to read, eight years younger, I could sit next to her and help her with reading.”

Helping his sister learn to read was a spark that would light the way for the rest of Slings’ life. He was part of the first graduating class at Newton Christian, one of four students to matriculate. He went onto seminary school, and by 1971 he was the Rev. Larry Slings.

“That sowed the seeds for me, and I’ve been teaching for the rest of my life,” Slings said.

It should come as no surprise that faith has been an important part of Slings’ life, his family was instrumental in getting the Newton Christian School off the ground. His grandfather, Jella Slings was a minister who helped with the initial fundraising, and Francis Van Zee, the school’s first teacher, was his cousin. Slings credits Van Zee for instilling in him a love of music that he’s carried with him for the rest of his life.

“My love of music really got jumpstarted with her, we’d sing every day,” Slings said.

Now that he’s working as a transitional minister, Slings is constantly on the move, but when the school administrators asked him if he’d come back to participate in the anniversary activities, Slings jumped at the chance. Principal Mary Patterson said teachers and staff at Newton Christian are excited to welcome Slings back into the fold. Space is at a premium these days at Newton Christian, and school administrators hope the excitement surrounding the anniversary will help kickstart funding to expand facilities.

“We want to get people excited about growth and expansion here,” Patterson said. “We want to be able to offer this education to everyone who wants it.”

When Newton Christian first moved into its current facility, 1710 N. 11th Ave. E., the site of the old alternative high school, in 2001 Patterson said they thought the building would serve its needs for a long time. As enrollment has continued to rise the school is running out of space. Patterson said the school hopes to expand the current facility as part of its five year development plan.

“When we came here we thought this was the Taj Mahal and would serve our needs forever, but now 15 years later we need more space,” Patterson said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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