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  • Beth Coetzee


This year, Stanford Lake College celebrates 25 years. Following the establishment of Unicorn Preparatory as an independent school in Tzaneen, the parent body felt that there was a need for an independent English medium high school in our area. Through the passion and perseverance of the founding members and a dedicated team of parents deeply invested in their community, what began as a dream became a reality in as little as 350 days of planning, debating and discussing. Although it was not always easy and took immense commitment, this amazing group of people devoted themselves to the task of building a school, the foundation of which was based on a strong community involvement; a commitment to getting things done and a passion for making the dream a reality.

Although the search for a suitable site for the school started in Tzaneen, fortuitously, the stunning and picturesque Troutwaters Inn came up for sale at this time. This family holiday resort was owned by local businessman and hotelier, Guy Matthews and a group of Chinese businessmen was interested in purchasing it. Taking a leap of faith, the group convinced Guy Matthews to sell them the property, despite the fact that they did not have the funding at the time. During the course of 1997, through the sale of debentures, the founding members managed to raise R2 million in a matter of months. In September 1997, the plans were passed, the deal was struck and construction began.

On 30 September 1997, the cornerstone brick of the classroom block was laid by Mrs Henning and Mrs Strever, the daughter of HGM Stanford, the constructor of the lake which bears his name. The colour of the bricks was a much-debated topic among the founding members but eventually the ‘Transvaal’ contingent had its way and the present colour of the teaching blocks was chosen. However, the ‘red brick brigade’, led by Maggie Baleta, did not go down without a fight and in deference to her wishes, you’ll see a single red brick in the wall on the side of the CAT lab at the school. On 12 January 1998 Stanford College, as it was then known, opened its doors with just six teachers, eight classrooms, 68 pupils, three admin staff and 20 ground staff. The boys and girls all lived in the same boarding house, Founders, which was the old hotel building with the school contained in a relatively small space.

A local resident, Con Faucconier, brother-in-law of Mr Steers who owns the piece of land adjacent to Stanford, gave the school the use of five hectares of land adjoining the school property as long as it was used for educational purposes. One of the members of the governing body at the time, Ed Hillary, who was in the construction business, brought in a team to turn a hillside covered in black wattles into the top field which is known today as the Hillary field. Grass runners were planted, taking the better part of three years for the grass to knit, during which time the main detention activity was picking up stones, first from the bare patches and later from within the turf and the pupils themselves were actually tasked to plant the grass too.

The late Rudi Schoeman conceived of the name Stanford College, after the lake on which the school is situated. Following threats of a lawsuit from Stanford University in California, who had a trademark on ‘Stanford College’, the school had to alter their name and the founders settled on Stanford Lake College. Mr Gavin Scholefield was the founder headmaster, originally from Michaelhouse and the cricket oval is named after Mr Scholefield in honour of his contribution to Stanford. He spent only three years on ‘The Mountain’ but in that time instilled a wonderful code of ethics amongst the pupils and staff alike. One of the original staff members at that time was the late Mr Ken Shuter, a wonderfully unconventional educationalist who embraced all Stanford stood for and one of the boarding houses is named after him.

When Mr Scholefield retired, Mrs Anne van Zyl, from St Stithians College, became the new head and, apart from bringing an enormous amount of energy into the school, she was also instrumental in introducing Stanford to the International Round Square Organisation. To this day we remain one of this continent’s most active and influential Round Square schools. Since then, the school’s headmasters were Mr Brian Dawson, Mr Johann Uekermann, Mr Craig Carolan and Stanford Lake College is currently led by Mr Alan Redfern.

It is no coincidence that in the very undertaking of building the school, the amazing visionaries who took on this challenge displayed some of the school’s key values. In order to establish a place that espoused lifelong-learning and ensured quality in all that they did, the community came together to achieve a seemingly impossible dream. It took unbelievable commitment, incredible courage and respect for one another as they debated and discussed the plans, as well as an undertaking to deliver on their promise to Guy Matthews that they would find the money to pay for the hotel. It is therefore no surprise that when this inspiring group of people sat down to decide what the school’s value system should look like, they agreed on the seven values which the school abides by to this day, namely Integrity, Courage, Commitment, Quality, Respect, Ubuntu and Tshanduko. May the next 25 years nurture and develop these qualities in each and every learner of Stanford Lake College.

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