Some people will do anything in order for their children to receive a good education.
They might even build a completely new school for the benefit of their children.
When Mr John Munsel (yes, the John Munsel from ‘John’s ShoeX’ in Midland who sold shoes for more than forty years to customers big and small) attended the first meeting at the Midland Town Hall back in August of 1981 on the recommendation of a friend. He attended because he believed that it was in the best interests of one of his children:
“The concept of the school was an answer to prayer! Our eldest had dyslexia, and the large class sizes in the state system meant that he would never receive the attention he needed. At that stage, there really was no other option for us,” says John.
“Joan Grosser was keen to get the school up and going in a matter of months. I could hardly believe it! It would take an absolute miracle to get a school ready that quickly. But we were excited, and she really had a desire to make the school a reality.”
While John was known as the man to go for shoes in Midland, his wife Rosemary also had a calling that made her very popular when the school first began.
“I used to love baking sponge cakes on Friday morning for the three teachers. I had an abundance of eggs through a family connection, and I thought it was a nice way to bless these teachers. They were working so hard for our children,” says Rosemary.
Working hard was something that John and Rosemary became closely accustomed to in the few short months before the school opened in early 1982.
Like many of the first families, John and Rosemary remember the challenges of that time.
“The site was an ex-coal dump, so our kids would go along to the Busy Bee with us, and we would all come home, black as soot!” remembers John with a smile.
But there is no sense of regret for the many hours of volunteer work that the Munsels put into making the site a habitable school ground. In fact, both John and Rosemary feel that those early days were some of the most vivid and tangible memories of true Christian love amongst people of differing denominations.
“It was an amazing time of fellowship,” says Rosemary.
“You would be chipping the bricks, getting the cement off these re-used bricks that Peter Bailey had picked up for next to nothing, and you’d be chatting with someone you never met before or having a laugh with a Christian friend that you’d recently met as a result of the school connection. It was an amazing experience – absolutely amazing,” says John fondly.
Rosemary remembers the physical work on the Woodbridge site and the driving force behind the Busy Bee working parties:
“Joan Grosser. Wow. She could work as hard as any man! Pushing the wheelbarrow, picking up bricks, rounding people up. She willed the school into being. Without her, I don’t think we would have got the school ready in time.”
John also remembers the first few years of the school being very special:
“I think there were only about 57 students in the whole school in the first year. That meant that Alan and Val Campbell [who lived within walking distance of the school site] would often have the entire school population back to their place to swim in the pool on a hot afternoon. Someone would bring along a watermelon, and the entire school would be eating watermelon on a Friday afternoon. It was a very special time in our lives.”
John’s shoe shop also became the depository for the uniform stock for the new school, with rolls and rolls of ‘SCEA Blue’ fabric being shipped to the back of John’s shop for new parents to come and pick up when they enrolled their child in the school. Every new parent was responsible for sewing their child’s uniform – which meant that the word “uniform” was a loose term for any variety of garment in the ‘SCEA Blue’ fabric!
“Some of the mothers would sew a dress for their daughter [who was in Year 1], and they wanted it to last for their entire schooling life,” says Rosemary with a chuckle.
“It would go all the way down to their ankles, and the expectation would be that it would last for seven years! Some others [who were good at sewing] would make the dresses in such a way that alterations could be made each year as their children grew taller.”
John and Rosemary had three children who went through the SCEA system, and they now have grandchildren at Mundaring Christian College – effectively ‘second-generation’ SCEA students.
While John is retired from the shoe business, he is still as bubbly and bright as ever, and he is still recognised around the town when he ventures out with Rosemary for the local shopping trips. They have been regular attendees at Bellevue Baptist for 45 years and still face each day with a smile.
“They were amazing times. Val Campbell was a wonderful Principal to our kids, and that early answer to prayer continued to be a blessing throughout all of our schooling years,” says John.
John and Rosemary will join other SCEA Pioneers from the ‘Inaugural Planning Meeting’ (held on 17 August 1981) in an afternoon tea later this year to celebrate the early days of SCEA’s history.