History of ERCHA

by Mary Trimble, former ERCHA leader

In 1987, the idea of homeschooling was, at best, a novelty relegated to hippies and "religious fanatics." When I mentioned to a group of medical students that I planned on teaching my 5 year old son at home one of them said, "Don’t plan on doing that in New York, you would probably be shot." It was in this environment that Mary McCarley started a homeschool mothers group that met once a month in the basement of the Grace Brethren Church. About twelve women gathered to support and receive support from one another. Education for the group came in the form of books written by John Holt, Mary Pride, Dorothy and Raymond Moore, Greg Harris and a few others. Magazines sprouted up such as Teaching Home and Practical Homeschooling Magazine. Curriculum was a hot topic of conversation. Some of the programs available were Calvert, Christian Liberty, ATIA, KONOS and ACE.

Although, initially, not homeschool-friendly Abeka and Bob Jones were also available. Swimming was the group activity to involve parents and children and the locker room was our other support group meeting place.

In 1989, when Mary McCarley moved to Washington, DC, I took over the little group. One of the goals was to provide children with the opportunity to do together that which could not be done at home. The first activity was a week-long soccer clinic. Since the clinic had 40 children in attendance the idea was expanded and, for several years, there were sports clinics to include volleyball, tennis, golf and soccer. Weekly activities included swimming and roller-skating and every Tuesday afternoon there was a club: art, science, music and history. Field trips were planned at least once a month. During this time homeschooling became a mainstream option and the group grew.

With this growth Jackie Torkelson became co-president, Anne Kincaid was vice-president/treasurer and Marcia Goering was librarian. Now we were charging $15 a year dues to send out a monthly newsletter which Susan Teel published and mailed. From the beginning, members who wanted to have an activity were responsible for their ideas. This meant the officers guided the group and many people put a lot of effort in making the group successful.

While the organization was growing so were the kids. Elizabeth Beckett and Sarah Teel won the ThinkQuest competition in 1997. However, they did not have a "school name". At that point we scrambled for a name and we became Eagle River Chugiak Home School Association (aka ERCHA). That same year our state legislature passed the best homeschooling law in the nation. No longer were we required to report to the State of Alaska Department of Education. Within a few months public homeschools sprang up, starting with IDEA. Up until this point, the statewide homeschool group APHEA was strong. However, suddenly, they were looking for a role and, since they no longer had the membership to host the annual homeschool convention, ERCHA assumed responsibility for two years. Instrumental in helping make this work were 4 key individuals; Brian & Mary Trimble, Ramona Mortier and Anne Kincaid.

In 1998, Joel Beckett, Samuel Beckett, Caleb Teel and Aaron Trimble entered the same Animals of the Arctic competition, so the group ERCHA became a 501(c)(3) organization. When they won ERCHA received $2,000.

By 1999, the homeschool movement was popular and diverse. As a non-profit organization we held annual officer elections and we realized if we were going to maintain our Christian foundation we needed to have a statement of faith for the officers and our identity reflected in our name. Thus, ERCHA became Eagle River Christian Homeschool Association. After 11 years of service, Mary Trimble passed the presidential baton to Hiedi Kroeker during the 2001-2002 school year. From 2002-2004, Mary Trimble was again elected president and in 2003 we held our first ERCHA graduation.

After Mary's youngest graduated from high school, Ramona Mortier served as president from 2004-2008. Other ERCHA leaders include: Kelly Foreman 2008-2009 and 2011-2012, Lisa Torkelson 2009-2010, Shelly Carruba 2010-2011, Diana Weatherby 2012-2014, Jill Blackstone 2014-2015.