Fifty years ago Taiwan was a relatively poor country seeking to become an industrial power; now it is a democratic society at the forefront of information technology. Sixty years ago a school for missionary children operated in a house with five children sitting around a dining room table; now it has three campuses and more than eight hundred students.
A look at the history of Morrison Academy reveals that some things have not changed, namely God’s faithfulness to His people and the desire of this school to serve Him by meeting the educational needs of the children of missionaries.
The First Ten Years: Getting Started
In the fall of 1952, six children and one teacher (Edna Frances Merritt) began the school year in a bamboo hut on the Oriental Missionary Society compound in Taichung. About the same time the board of the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship approved the formation of a school committee “to work on the problem of schooling for missionaries’ children.” There was a pressing need for a boarding school in a central location. Mr. Richard Hillis (TEAM) contacted the mission boards represented on the island explaining the need for a school and requesting that each mission allot either $1500 (US) or the services of a teacher. Meanwhile TMF rented an old mansion south of the Taichung train station and made plans to renovate it to be used as a school.
Rev. Harry Woods (OMS), the first chairman of the school board, Rev. Uri Chandler (OMS), Mr. Conrad Baehr (Christian Missions in Many Lands), and Rev. Oscar Beckon (TEAM) gave many long hours of work to the founding and early development of the school known at that time as the Taiwan Evangelical Christian School. “Those were exciting days as the school was established,” recalls former TMF chairman Carl Hunker. “Many issues had to be settled, but . . . a solid agreement about Biblical beliefs came into being.”
Classes began in the fall of 1953 with thirty-five children. Monthly tuition was $12 ($10 for missionary children) plus the cost of books and room and board, estimated to be $1.25 per day.
The following year four missions agreed to assume the responsibility of supplying the staff and overseeing the school. They were the Oriental Missionary Society (OMS), the Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), the Conservative Baptist Mission (CBInternational), and the Orient Crusades. The school was renamed Morrison Academy in honor of Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to Mainland China. Read more about Robert Morrison here.
The next year about eighty students were in attendance-coming equally from missionary and U.S. military families. The dorms (called hostels) housed a third of the student body. Morrison’s first graduating class (1956) was composed of three young men–Philip Bly, Phil Chandler, and Harry Winslow.
The constitution of the Morrison Christian Association was adopted in November of 1956. In 1957, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention joined the founding missions in the administration of the school. (Orient Crusades withdrew as a supporting mission in 1961 due to budget constrictions.) Kindergarten was held at Morrison for the first time in 1957. Morrison moved into new facilities in North Taichung (Chien Hsing Road) the following spring. By 1959, 230 students were enrolled in the school, necessitating a separate teacher for each class and two house parents each for the two dorms.
The Second Decade: Growing Pains
The missionary community in Taiwan grew during the sixties, so the student body grew as well. Taiwan had enjoyed spectacular economic growth during the previous decade to the extent that U.S. economic aid was no longer necessary.
In 1964 Morrison Christian Association was incorporated in the state of New Jersey and was recognized in Taiwan as a juridical person (i.e. incorporated). That same year the first written contract with the US military was signed for MCA to provide an education for dependent children. Taiwan was reportedly scheduled to become the biggest base in the Far East, giving Morrison the potential to grow to an enrollment of well over a thousand. One board member wisely observed, “It is quite uncertain how long this happy condition may continue.”
While the school was prospering financially, conflicts and questions arose as to the purpose of the school, the propriety of using direct-hire teachers when the school was financially able to pay a salary, and the presence of so many non-missionary children in the classrooms. Superintendents Hugo Johnson, C. E. Redfield, and Charles Holsinger navigated through these potentially troubled waters.
At that time Morrison’s dormitories housed children in the elementary grades, but the board came to believe it was better for younger children to live at home. Several schools had started independently in communities around the island that soon joined the Morrison system as “satellites”. Bethany Christian School in Taipei (founded in 1961) joined the Morrison system in 1967. That same year several TEAM mothers living in Taitung began working together to teach their children. That school, named Taitung Christian School, joined Morrison in 1971. In Chiayi, the closure of the U.S. air base left several missionary children without a school. Rather than send their children to board at Morrison in Taichung, the parents established the Chiayi Christian School, which was added to the Morrison system in 1968.
The Third Decade: Persevering
After nearly fifteen years at the north Taichung campus, the board realized a move was inevitable. The city of Taichung had plans for roads that would divide the campus, so, after considering options such as an overpass, the board voted to sell their holdings and develop a new campus in the Sz Chang Li vicinity (where the current campus stands). Proceeds from the sale of the old property completely covered the cost of the new campus. High school classes began at the new campus in February of 1972 with the elementary classes moving there the following August. By that time Morrison Academy had close to 500 students.
Although the future of the school looked secure, it was soon to experience the biggest threat to its survival. As a result of the Shanghai Communique between the US and Chinese authorities in Peking, the U.S. began a gradual pullout of its military presence from the island. While that drastically reduced the number of students enrolled at Morrison (60% of the student body), it also acted as an impetus for refocusing and growth. Superintendent Paul “Pep” Peterson was at the helm for most of this decade. Ben Tomlinson served as superintendent in 1980.
When the Department of Defense School closed in the port city of Kaohsiung in 1974, many missionary and expatriate children were left without a school. To meet the need, Morrison Academy opened a K-8 school on the outskirts of the rapidly growing city. Thirty-three students and three teachers started the year in a house near Cheng Ching Lake, but by the end of that year there were forty-five students and four teachers. A six-classroom campus was built in 1976 with facilities later added and expanded.
Hsinchu Christian School opened in fall of 1973 on the grounds of the Presbyterian Bible School. In 1975 it moved to the Philips compound where it served MKs as well as the children of the Philips Company staff. The school relocated in 1981 and closed two years later.
Morrison Academy staff and students celebrated the school’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 1977, the same year TEAM property owned by the Door of Hope was being renovated for Bethany students. At Morrison’s request, TEAM granted continual use of that property, and plans were begun to construct a new building on that site. Morrison became accredited with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) in 1977 and became a member of ACSI (Association of Christian Schools, International) in 1980. On the East Coast, Morrison sought a permanent location for the Taitung Christian School. In Taichung, Norwegian and Finnish students moved into dormitories on Morrison property and began selected classes. Two tropical scourges (heat and termites) were conquered by air conditioning and exterminators.
The Fourth Decade: Maturing
As Morrison Academy matured in the ’80s, many policies were adopted that continue to guide the operation of Morrison Academy. One policy provided that Morrison would consider establishing a satellite school upon a written request from the missionary community if there were seven students (including four MKs) in grades K-8 in need of schooling.
Another policy stated that no more than one-fourth of the residents of Morrison dorms could be from the non-missionary community. In addition, a policy allowed children of off-island missionaries to attend Morrison. Other policies addressed appointing of board members, class size, missionary discounts, and teacher contracts. The board also added new staff positions, including a computer supervisor and a Taichung campus chaplain. This decade of growth saw Arthur Westcott, Lawrence Byous, Ken Klefsaas and David Brooks serving as superintendents.
In 1987, in a joint effort with TEAM and China Evangelical Seminary, the current multi-level Bethany campus in Taipei was completed. The Chiayi Christian School closed in 1983, but Morrison established a satellite school in Chungli in 1988. It later moved to Yang Mei until its closure in 2002. By the time Morrison’s fourth decade ended, the student body on the Kaohsiung campus had grown to 120, and plans were in process for new facilities there.
The Fifth Decade: Adapting
Changes occurring in Taiwan coincided with big changes for Morrison during the nineties. While the local economy was booming, the country experienced its first taste of the democratic process by electing a president. At Morrison, under the leadership of Superintendent Greg Meeks, efforts were made to adapt to the needs of a changing world and missionary community. More often missionaries came from Asian instead of western countries, and tentmakers increased as did missionaries from other non-traditional missions. Morrison reflected the increasingly global community with faculty members coming from eight countries and students from thirty.
In the dorms, the “lower and upper” and “boys’ and girls'” divisions were replaced with the more family-style atmosphere of mixed grades and genders. The inclusion of off-island students led to extended capabilities for boarding.
Looking toward the future, the board adopted a 20-year site plan to ensure facilities would be adequate into the next century. The student body at MAK moved into temporary facilities in 1996 in preparation for relocation to its new $6 million facility, which was completed in 2000. Efforts in the areas of technology and teacher-led “task forces” addressed needs in the educational process. Work began on formulating a Mission Statement in 1992. After careful deliberation, that statement was approved in 1994 to help preserve the intentions of the founders to establish a school based on Christian principles. That was followed in 1998 by a Vision Statement that focuses on desired skills and behaviors to be acquired by students attending Morrison. Combined with the existing Philosophy statement, these documents continue to help Morrison faculty and administration maintain their focus.
Ninth grade classes were added at Bethany in 1997 so students could live with their families for one more year before boarding at the Taichung campus. Ninth grade was added on the Kaohsiung campus in 2000 when the new facilities were completed.
Morrison ends its fiftieth year of operation having seen a total of 1,287 students graduate from its high school. At the fiftieth mark, the Bethany and Kaohsiung campuses had enrollments nearing two hundred students, and Taichung had over four hundred and fifty.
Morrison Academy established a satellite school in Chiayi, which was closed in the Summer of 2010 and reopened in 2018. The Taichung elementary buildings were renovated in 2008. New classrooms, faculty housing, and dormitories were also added at that time. But just as the founders sixty years ago could not have foreseen what Morrison would be like today, we cannot imagine what the future will be. Due to a succession of wise leaders, dedicated faculty members, and God’s faithfulness and rich blessings, Morrison Academy has been able to fulfill its goal of educating the children of missionaries for the past sixty years. The challenge of the future will be to continue to build on the foundation that has been laid and to follow God’s direction in each new decision.
By: Donna MacLean
Reprinted from Taiwan Mission Quarterly, Spring 2002
Updated by System Services, Spring 2012 and Fall 2018