The Illiana communities have been committed to the principle of Christian education for over 100 years. By 1911, Christian elementary schools were established in Highland, Lansing, Munster, and South Holland, and more recently, Crown Point.
Prior to 1945, few people went on to secondary education. Illiana’s founders were challenged by the idea of Christian secondary education and how to make it available for their children. There were a few in our communities to whom Christian high school training meant so much that they secured boarding places in Chicago for their children, in order that they might attend the Chicago Christian High School. As emphasis on secondary education grew, so did interest in Christian secondary education. Parents began to unite to provide transportation. Also, Highland Christian School added a ninth grade to their curriculum in 1936, and a tenth grade in 1940.
Gradually, as the number of pupils attending high schools increased, it was felt that too few were making use of the opportunity to attend the Chicago Christian High School. The inconveniences, loss of time traveling, and overcrowded conditions at the Chicago Christian High School were some of the factors which lead to the crystallization of the Illiana Christian High School movement.
A good deal of discussion and weighing of pros and cons took place before definite action. A meeting of representatives of the five Reformed and five Christian Reformed churches in the Illiana area was held. The response from these churches and their consistories was very encouraging. A fact-finding committee was formed. Their assignment was to gather pertinent information on the proposed project. Upon completion of its duties the committee called a meeting on January 19, 1944, at the Munster Christian Reformed Church. Based on their report, the Illiana Christian High School Association was organized with 141 charter members. Each of the ten churches was represented by an elected board member forming the first Illiana board.
The board’s first task was to draw up a constitution for adoption by the association. After some revisions this constitution was approved by the board and presented to the association. Three subsequent association meetings resulted in further study, revision, and finally approval. The membership of the board was reorganized in keeping with the stipulations of the constitution: namely, that the membership of the board be representative of localities rather than churches. The task facing this board was formidable. It had to stimulate increased interest in and enthusiasm for a local Christian high school; it had to locate and purchase a site; it had to secure temporary quarters in which a beginning could be made; it had to secure an adequate teaching staff in days of dire teacher shortage; and it had to finance a $200,000.00 building program.
During the first year a seven-acre tract of ground was purchased for a building site. A $35,000 finance drive was organized and conducted, and an architect was consulted. It was announced that the official opening of classes for Illiana Christian High School would be September 1945. As the building was not yet finished, classes met in two rooms in the Lansing Christian School and the basement of the Lansing Christian Reformed Church.
The first class consisted of 90 students. Mr. Cornelius Van Beek was engaged as principal. There were two teachers, Miss Ruth Compaan and Mr. George Van Wesep on the teaching staff. Provisions were in place for the first two years of high school. In the spring of 1946, it was clear that with a new freshman class coming in, the present place was inadequate and the new building was not yet completed.
Through the helpful cooperation of the County Board of Commissioners and Forest Preserve officials, two barracks of a former Civil Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) camp in the Thornton Forest Preserve were leased to the school society. The Illiana society was authorized to make alterations as were necessary to convert these buildings to classrooms. Six suitable classrooms were thus secured, with an additional barracks for recreational purposes.
That fall of 1946, the student body numbered 135 and was taught by six full-time teachers and one part-time teacher. It was a year of primitive building facilities but he students and faculty showed a fine spirit of cooperation.
The following summer it became apparent that progress had been slow in the construction of the new building and the September opening would not occur. The 180 students would have to go back to the barracks again. Two new teachers were added to the staff.
Happily, their stay in the Forest Preserve barracks was of short duration. When school was dismissed for the Christmas holidays, the students were told that their next school home, beginning January 7, 1948, would be at the new Illiana Christian High School located on the tract of land known as “Bock’s Field” in Lansing, Illinois.
The year 1955 saw Illiana filled beyond capacity of seven rooms and an auditorium. The building was expanded to a second story plus a cafeteria, gymnasium, and library in 1956 and about 260 students attended Illiana. By 1966 Illiana again became overcrowded and extended the building eastward, which gave the school eight new rooms plus more office space.
In 1977, a large gymnasium and industrial arts facility was added. Additional support staff was added to meet the increasing administrative and custodial needs. There were over 770 students crowding the halls of Illiana. All the students could not fit into the auditorium and separate chapels had to be held.
As 1980s and 1990s have passed, Illiana is more diverse than ever. There is a wide range of family life and much diversity among the student body. Today a staff of more than 40 provide a diverse program. There are science labs with lasers and rooms full of computers. But one thing has not changed over the decades, that is the purpose of Illiana Christian High School. Teachers, students, parents, and constituents want this to be a place of academic and social growth, but most of all a place to become a better-equipped servant of Christ. As we are now into the 21st century, our hope is that God will continue to bless Illiana in educating covenant children for kingdom service.