Stanford Lake College – 25 years in the making

This year, Stanford Lake College celebrates 25 years.  Two Stanford community members have undertaken to delve into the school’s history and what they have picked out whilst interviewing and researching the early years, is that the foundation of the school was very much through a strong community involvement, a commitment to getting things done and realising a dream. People say “we” and not “I” when speaking about the planning.

Following the establishment of Unicorn Preparatory as an independent school in Tzaneen, the parent body felt that there was always a need for an independent English medium high school in our area and through the passion and perseverance of the founding members and a dedicated team of parents deeply invested in their community, what was a dream became a reality, in a short 350 days. This entailed late nights of planning, debating and discussing. It was not always easy and took immense commitment from this amazing group of people who devoted themselves to this task of building a school.

The feeling was that they needed to buy land in Tzaneen and they had a few options, one of them being the Tzaneen shooting range. Fortuitously, the stunning and picturesque Troutwaters Inn came up for sale in this time. This family holiday resort was owned at the time by local businessman and hotelier, Guy Matthews.  The facility was very nearly sold to group of Chinese businessmen. Through a leap of faith, they convinced Guy to sell to them, despite the fact that they did not have the funding. 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 deconstruction and construction began.

The corner-stone 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) on 30th September 1997. The colour of the bricks was a much debated topic among the founding members. 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 the 12th January, 1998 Stanford College (as it was then known) opened its doors. With just 6 teachers, 8 classrooms, 68 pupils, 3 admin staff and 20 ground staff. The boys and girls all lived in the same boarding house, Founders, which was the old hotel building. The school was contained in a relatively small space.

A local resident, Con Faucconier, who is the 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 to be used for educational purposes. One of the members of the governing body at the time, Ed Hillary, was in construction and brought in a team to turn a hillside covered in black wattles into the top field we know today as the Hillary field.  

With minimal attention to the condition of the soil, grass runners were planted. It took the better part of three years for the grass to knit, and for that time the main detention activity was picking up stones, first from the bare patches, later from within the turf. The pupils themselves were actually tasked to plant the grass too.

The late Rudi Schoeman thought up 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 trade mark 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.  The cricket oval is named after Mr Scholefield in honour of his contribution to Stanford. He spent a short 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 was the late Mr Ken Shuter, a wonderfully unconventional educationalist who embraced all Stanford stood for.  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 and to this day we remain one of this continents most active and influential Round Square schools. Since then, the school has been led by Mr Brian Dawson, Mr Johann Uekermann, Mr Craig Carolan and is currently lead by Mr Alan Redfern.

It is no coincidence that in the very undertaking of building the school, the amazing visionaries who took on the challenge were displaying some of the school’s key values. In order to establish a place that espoused lifelong learning and ensuring quality in all that they did, a community came together to achieve! It took unbelievable commitment, incredible courage, respect for one another as they debated and discussed the plans, and an honesty to deliver on their promise to Guy Matthews that they would find the money to pay for the hotel. It therefore does not come as a surprise that when they sat down to discuss what the school’s value system should look like, they came up with the seven values the school abides by today – Integrity, Courage, Commitment, Quality, Respect, Ubuntu and Tshanduko.