Dave and Rosa Gillham Join the Central California Leadership Team
Dave Gillham always knew he wanted to be a church school teacher just like his mom. “My mother taught me in five of my first six years of school. I saw what a teacher did,” Gillham says.
But the shortage in family finances nearly derailed Gillham’s dream. For 10th grade he went to public school. “I was going to be a Daniel,” Gillham says. But when he made the varsity football and wrestling teams, his life slowly began to change. He excelled in sports, especially wrestling, where he competed in the state championship.
“I lost interest in spiritual things. It didn’t happen overnight, but the culture was so powerful,” he says. After graduation, he attended a public college “because my friends did.” And he majored in special education.
Like his friends, the party life was a part of his lifestyle. He’d receive letters from his mom telling him how much she wanted to see him in heaven, and during his junior year she confronted him. With tears streaming down her face, she said, “I’ve made a terrible mistake. I will do anything to get you back in an Adventist school.”
“Mom, it’s too late,” Gillham responded. But something in his heart began to soften. “There was no way I wanted to have a family with the girls I was dating. I wanted a Christian mate and thought, ‘If I wanted that, I’d have to be that.’”
Return of the Prodigal
He encountered Jesus in his dorm room one night. “Just try me. Just taste and see,” he seemed to hear. Sitting alone, facing all the things in his life that had ended in failure, the tough guy’s heart broke open and he let his Savior in.
“‘I give you my heart. You deserve a fair shot. The devil sold me a bill of goods. I hate my life,’” Gillham prayed. “And the Holy Spirit filled my heart.”
Change came quickly. The Bible and Conflict of Ages series became his favorite reading material. “I went ape over spiritual things,” he explains.
Walla Walla College was his choice for his senior year. There his passion for Jesus and Adventist education was resurrected. “It was an amazing place. Sure, there were kids in my dorm doing stupid stuff like I had done in public college, but I found the Christian fellowship I longed for, and I got involved.”
One other life-changing event happened — he met Rosa Conner. They married a year after his graduation. The Gillhams have four grown children — two girls and two boys — all married, and four grandchildren.
Living Lives of Service
Since graduating from college in 1973, Gillham’s experience has been wide and varied. A one-year volunteer assignment at the English Language School in Japan was followed by teaching and principal positions in Montana and Washington. Then six years at a mission school in Guam and teaching English at the Japan Missionary College took the family to exotic locations.
A Home Economics and Health major, Rosa was a stay-at-home mom for the first half of the marriage. “When our daughter turned 13, we knew it was time to return to the States,” Dave says. He also wanted to begin a doctorate program.
Principal at Campion Academy in Colorado was their next move. But his next job as an associate superintendent put him on the road most of the time. “What am I doing saving the world and missing time with my children?” he asked himself late one night. Just then, a radio program by Dr. James Dobson came on the air. The subject was the importance of the father in the family.
“Lord, if you want me back in the classroom, that’s O.K.,” he prayed. Within two weeks, both he and Rosa were asked to come to Ozark Elementary in Gentry, Ark. Both had teaching positions. Five years later, the same simple prayer took the family to Oregon to be near Rosa’s 88-year-old mom. “Everything I have done in my life is for my family,” Gillham says.
With their two boys at Loma Linda University, the Gillhams accepted positions at San Gabriel Academy in San Gabriel, Calif. Dave was principal, Rosa taught Life Skills, Health and Computer Applications. She is certified in elementary and secondary education, health and business.
When Dennis Seaton, vice president for personnel, called about the vice president of education position in Central, Gillham assured him they were not interested. “Would you at least talk about it?” Seaton asked.
“What appealed to both of us was the importance of children as a conference priority,” Dave says. Both will have leadership roles in the conference’s new Children First initiative.
“I want our children excited about staying in the church, to have a passion for sharing Christ,” says Rosa. As children’s ministries director, her initial plans are ambitious and include assisting teachers, pastors and church members in working together for the salvation of their children. A second priority is resourcing families to grow stronger in unity between husbands and wives.
Gillham clearly understands the importance of Adventist education. “We have a unique two-fold mission from God: 1) To disciple young people in a love relationship with Christ and, 2) To prepare our young people for the delusions coming — the final onslaught of Satan. There is not another Christian school that can do this for our children.”