The History of Roundhouse
Long Train Runnin’
Good parents make many sacrifices for their children. The biggest sacrifice is time. The writer of Deuteronomy 6:7 points out explicitly how much time it would take to properly insure a knowledge and love of God, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (NKJV) Basically, all day, as opportunity presents itself, you teach your children about God. All godly parents know this truth.
From among this group of godly parents comes another subset of parents who strongly desire to include academic education, along with the spiritual education when teaching their children. Home schooling parents have steadily proven God’s way is successful even when it comes to teaching His Word and His world to the next generation.
Back in 1989, it seems God’s providence was at work when He coordinated the meeting of two independent-thinking, home schooling families. Mark and Teah McWhorter of Pell City, AL, were teaching their 5 girls at home; and, my husband and I (Keith and Cheryl Cozort), then, of Grand Ledge, MI, were teaching our 3 sons. We met in Montgomery, AL at the Apologetics Press Seminar and a strong, lasting friendship began.
Keith had been given a list, by brothers Terry Hightower and Robert Waggoner, of about 14 families across the country, members of the church, who were actively teaching their children at home. Mark and Teah also had a list of names from families in Alabama. As home schooling began growing all across the nation, many within the church remained unfamiliar with the goals and desires of parents who would remove their children from the public schools and choose a non-traditional method of academic training. Because of this lack of understanding, Christian home schooling parents were suffering persecution from without and within the church. Both Mark and Keith deemed it timely to reach out to other like-minded families to offer much needed encouragement and support. The McWhorters volunteered to start a newsletter to help do just that. In September 1989, the first issue of “THE HOME TRAIN,” (Teach, Reason, Admonish, Instruct, Nurture) was published. During the first year of publication, many new contacts were found among the brethren. This was very exciting. Once, we thought we were isolated loners, but like always, in the church, somebody knew somebody who knew somebody else! The contacts grew rapidly. This newsletter provided information and encouragement for parents. It was an outlet for students to publish poems and short stories or find pen pals. Publication ceased in December 1997 as the internet grew and people could reach out “faster.” However, The Home Train was the foundation for the current group meeting each September in Flat Rock, NC.
In early 1990, I sent a note to Teah, just dreaming “out-loud,” wishing there was a way to bring these folks together. Teah agreed and ran with the idea. She found a workable conference center 3 miles from their home and began negotiations. A date was secured and plans began for a gathering. Mark and Teah named this event RoundHouse. As you may know, trains go to a roundhouse to be refurbished, refreshed, repaired and renewed; then they are returned to the rails. That is what RoundHouse became for all of the home schooling families: a time of renewal, re-focusing, spiritual encouragement, fellowship and fun.
The first RoundHouse (RH) was held October 12-15, 1990, with 11 families totaling 50 people, representing five States. Twenty years later it is still going strong. Of those original 11 families, four continue to attend. RoundHouse has become an incredible network of encouragement, support, validation and help for a still small group of home schooling families in the church.
This is a very exciting time for us. We welcome any members of the church who are currently home schooling to attend. We also encourage any readers who have ever been to RoundHouse to return. Our current attendees include three and sometimes four generations of families. It is quite refreshing to see the camaraderie across the generations, the bonds that are firmly knit together year after year.
Before I explain what RH is let me give just a brief history. The first seven years of RoundHouse were located at the Chula Vista Camp and Conference center in Pell City, AL. The event grew from two and a half days to five days beginning the second year. The children always requested two weeks on the end-of-the week suggestion sheets; exhausted parents agreed in heart but knew they couldn’t go another week without sleep! We began with 50 people the first year and doubled that number the second year and by the fourth year had 220! When we left Chula Vista in 1996 we had 340 people in attendance and a network of many more who could not attend.
The next seven years we met at the Springville Camp and Conference Center in Springville, AL. While there we had a record setting 505 people in attendance in 2002. We outgrew the facilities and needed to search for a new place. Since 2004 we have been meeting at the Bonclarken Conference Center in Flat Rock, NC. We almost topped the 300 attendance mark in 2006 even after moving the location out of Alabama and having to change the longstanding dates.
What is/was the purpose of RoundHouse? We focus on strengthening families in their efforts to teach their children at home. Our main goal, when Teah and I began talking, was two-fold. The first was to encourage these brave stay-at-home Moms. We wanted to arm them with information about various curricula, to learn from the ones with older students about how to carry on through the teen years, to solicit advice about juggling the various “hats” mothers wear, to answer the hard questions about multi-level schooling and special needs children, and to build a strong emotional support wall to sustain us as the world tried to interfere with our chosen course. We still do all of that and more. Belinda Richardson, one of the original RH moms said one of her favorite memories is, “mothers sharing their hearts and problems together without judgment.”
The second part of our main goal was to acquaint our children with other children in similar situations. Our children often felt out-of-sorts with peers in their neighborhood or congregation because “nobody lives like we do.” RoundHouse has given them a peer group with the full structure of parental control and support. Kara McAfee, home school graduate from Georgia writes, “I have no way of picking just one (favorite memory)! I love them all! I do remember, though, that I have never once felt scared at RH. Always so safe – and so loved! It feels good to be there and know that all these people understand what your family is trying to do. Not to have people look at you like you are so strange.”
A surprising result of RH has been the change in many husbands. Some were allowing home schooling to occur because they couldn’t give a good reason not to, but didn’t have their whole heart in it. Many of these Dads are now some of the strongest supporters of home schooling because of the connections they have made with other men and the difference RH has made in the lives of their wives and children. Debbie Heck, current Board member from Missouri, sent this note in response to my question about her favorite RH memory, “Our 1st year at RH when my anti-homeschooling husband turned to me and said, ‘We are coming back next year.’ The strong Christian male fellowship was a huge encouragement to him.”
What do we do at RoundHouse? Our days begin with a short worship time. The first and last days we worship together as a group. The middle of the week we separate men and women to allow lessons to be directed to specific issues and help train our Christian young men and women in group leadership capacities. In the evenings we have another worship time before other activities. We always choose a Bible theme and an academic theme. The Bible theme is the basis of the Bible bowl we always have on Wednesdays. The academic theme is used as a guide for the other activities for the entire week. For instance, we have studied Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, the Civil War, Botany, the Human Body, Inventors and Inventions, the Presidents and many others. Each year we are blessed with a wonderfully talented group of parents without whom RH wouldn’t function. They volunteer to run information centers for our RH Fair, design treasure hunts, find and teach arts and craft ideas, teach children how to play soccer, volleyball, softball, and disc golf. Other activities include canoeing, a rock climbing wall, bookstore displays, vendor displays, spelling bee competitions, student displays and student presentations. We even solicit volunteers to cook the evening meals for those who wish to eat with the group.
Current teen attendee Anna Hester writes that her favorite memory is the youth singing on the last night. Yes, the singing all week is marvelous. Another teen, Joseph McWhorter wrote that his favorite memories included “being in a canoe race with my granddaddy and coming in last place, dressing up like a wounded soldier for the Civil War year and spending time with friends…”
Amongst all of this togetherness there is still time for families to be alone to work on cementing their bonds. We offer a schedule of events but no one is required to attend anything. Yet, few miss anything because the fellowship we are seeking is short lived. The week flies by too quickly. Many drive long miles to reach RH and seek to squeeze every possible activity into every minute. Suzie Epler from Oklahoma wrote, “RH is 50 hours on the road….3000 miles and ABSOLUTELY [the] highlight of our year.” The Eplers haven’t even traveled the farthest over the years. We’ve had families from as far west as California, as far North as New Hampshire, all across the south and points in between.
No event like this could sustain itself without a Board of Directors. In 1992, four selected families began to serve in this capacity: Mark and Teah McWhorter, Mark and Joanne Bass, Al and Chris Parr, and Keith and Cheryl Cozort. Over the course of years, as children graduated or preachers left for the mission field or life changes required such, the Board has changed. All of these gracious people have also served the RoundHouse families in this manner: Dennis and Brenda Woods, Burt and Michelle Fuller, Larry and Lisa Kee, David and Debbie Heck, William and Katrece Howard, and Jeff and Cindy Madaris. The Kees, Hecks, Howards, Madarises and Cozorts continue on the Board at this present time.
In conjunction with the original goal of connecting famiies to each other, RH tried to open doors of understanding within the church at large. After the first year, and for the next 13 years, we had guest speakers come for our mid-week Bible study. Some of the men who came were Robert Waggoner, Winford Claiborne, Wayne Coats, Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Rod Rutherford, James Boyd, Jim Dearman, Ernest Underwood and others whose names are lost in my memory.
Many missionary families home school while in the mission field. We have been blessed to have them plan their time in the States to coordinate with RH. Underwood, Parr, Bryant, Sword, Jensen, Payne, Gee, Landis, and O’Donnell are some of the family names that come to mind who have attended over the years. Several of “our” young people have taken mission trips because of associations with RH folks. Currently one of the recent graduates has moved to China and another is in Russia.
Julia Jensen Parish, while doing mission work with her family in Tanzania wrote, “The benefits of RH have reached far beyond my home school experience. The amazing people I’ve met at RH have literally changed my life…Being able to get to know so many people of like-faith, learn from their wisdom, and be part of the Roundhouse family is one of the most uplifting privileges I have ever had.”
One neat by-product of the RH association is the marriages that have started there. In our family alone we have evidence to testify to the long lasting relationships. Our two oldest sons met their wives through RH. The third daughter-in-law we met through Bible camp with RoundHousers. Through the years there have been several marriages between RH attendees.
Since our sons have decided to home school our grandchildren we get the extra blessing of attending RH with our grandchildren. It is pure joy to be together there. It has been an amazing ride through the years. Most children who attend leave counting the days until the next RH; the parents do, too!
Our prayer for all children who have been home schooled is that they will seek this way of teaching, encouraging and growing in the Lord for their children too. Good home schooling is not isolationism for its own sake, but instead it is a controlled buffer “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age” (Eph. 6:12).
In these uncertain times it is gratifying to be able to contribute to strengthening the homes and families in the church. Self-sacrificing parents who have stood against political correctness are to be honored. We pray our children will thank God for the examples they’ve witnessed and will continue to fulfill what Christ called the first of all commandments, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:28).
If you know of any families actively teaching their children or researching their educational possibilities, please share with them this article and this website, www.roundhouse.us. We would love to encourage and support them as we have been supported through the years.