250 Years: On This Day in UB History (Jan 7)


On January 7, 1955, Centennial High School was dedicated in Mattru Jong, Sierra Leone. The name recognized 100 years of United Brethren ministry in Sierra Leone. It was a big day. The 800 guests included various government dignitaries, and the National Secretary of Education gave the keynote address.

Centennial was not only the first UB high school in Sierra Leone, but the first co-educational high school in the country. Spearheading the school was missionary DeWitt Baker, who had arrived in Sierra Leone in 1949 (and in 1965 became president of Huntington University). He ordered materials, hired and supervised workers, and oversaw all other aspects of construction.

They needed hundreds of bags of cement, which they mixed with sand on the beach to make thousands of blocks. Construction stopped in June with the advent of rainy season. When work resumed in September, 100 men arrived seeking work. DeWitt hired 50 of them. He wrote, “I hauled stone and sand, and kept my eye on all that was happening.”

Ultimately, there were 15 buildings, including an administration/library building, boys’ and girls’ dormitories, four classroom buildings, bath houses, a dining hall, a chapel, and five buildings for staff. Water was pumped 800 feet from a stream into a large tank which supplied the various buildings.

The school opened on January 24, 1955. Enrollment quickly rose to about 90. DeWitt was the proud principal…and much more. He taught classes, hired construction workers, supervised teachers, led chapels, wrote paychecks, kept the books, ordered supplies, unloaded building materials, graded papers, cooked meals, typed and mimeographed tests, planted fruit trees, and so much more.

After ten years, the school had grown to nearly 300 students. After 30 years, there were 600 students and a staff of 31. Scores of children had found Christ, and Centennial alumni could be found in cities throughout the country working in colleges, police stations, schools, government posts and sundry other jobs.

1 Comment
  • Niles Sundstrom
    Posted at 11:16h, 07 January

    I remember this event as I was about 12 years old and living in Sierra Leone. My parents were missionaries with UBC from 1950 – 1956. We had a huge parade from the town of Mattru out to the school where a dedication service was held. My sister, Colleen, along with Ron and Norman Baker were in the parade. I believe the British Governor of Sierra Leone and other high officials were there for this special event. DeWitt Baker was an amazing, gifted, and Godly man. How he accomplished what he did under very primitive circumstances, I’ll never know. It had to be the hand of God on him. He had a heart for bring literacy and education to the people of Sierra Leone when there was almost no opportunity for them to learn even the basics of reading and writing. But most of all, he wanted this school to be a channel through which students would come to know the Lord. It is unimaginable how many souls were saved at Centennial Secondary School and will be heaven because DeWitt and Evelyn Baker were willing to go anywhere God called them and make any sacrifices that were asked of them, even if it meant losing their youngest son in a tragic boating accident on the Jong River.

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