By Gail Wood
The gift – a small toy pirate’s ship with a one-eyed pirate on the deck – said a lot about Ketchum, the principal at Northwest Christian High School.
Ketchum, who wears a black eye patch, welcomed both the students and the gag gift.
“It was fun,” Ketchum said. “It didn’t bother me. We laughed.”
That moment, Ketchum’s reaction, reveals the true Northwest Christian High School’s principal. His personality, his friendly, good-natured outlook, permitted that encounter. Those students wouldn’t have dared approach their principal if he were a stern, gruff taskmaster.
“He does have a great sense of humor and is easy to talk to,” said Larry Weber, superintendent at The Foundation Campus, which includes Northwest Christian High School.
Maybe what’s most surprising about Terry Ketchum, the son of a pastor, isn’t so much what he’s done – work as a missionary director in Haiti for 12 years and now as a principal. It’s what he’s not – a bitter man, angry at God.
In 2004, while Ketchum was the Regional Education Coordinator for the universities and colleges in the Caribbean region, he was diagnosed with cancer. A pastor noticed that Ketchum’s eye was red.
“The other eye wasn’t,” Ketchum said. “I just thought it was a blocked tear duct or something.”
It was cancer. His eye, eye socket and eventually a portion of his cheekbone were removed. After wearing a fake eye for several years, he opted for the black patch. He’s adjusted.
It’s Ketchum’s reaction that’s been his best testimony. In his darkest moment, his light, his Christian faith, shined bright.
“There are moments,” Ketchum said. “But I’m hoping God can use it.”
The cancer, the struggle and the loss, have changed him, giving him more insight to pain. He’s now more compassionate because he’s walked in the shoes of sorrow.
With perhaps a sharper sense of empathy as a result of cancer, Ketchum said he’s more sensitive in his role as a principal. While he wouldn’t say cancer should be a prerequisite to being a principal, it’s given him a different insight.
“Because I’ve had several years dealing with this,” Ketchum reflected about his cancer, “I’m able, on a different level, able to identify with (high school students). There’s still a neon sign over my doorway – Principal. Beware. So, I still have to deal with that.”
But that heavy hand, that disciplinarian voice, is not how he operates. Through humor and a carefully constructed image, there’s an open-door approach staff and students have with Ketchum. There are not many principals who have a banjo hanging on their office walls, or a pirate ship on their bookshelf.
“I love to have fun,” he said. “I love to engage with the person. This job is about people.”
Surprisingly, he said it’s not about books, grades and transcripts. Well, not entirely.
“It’s a lot more than head knowledge,” Ketchum said. “Transcripts. GPAs. SATs. Yes, they’re important. But that’s not the bottom line for me. We’re here for the whole person development.”
And that is a cooperative effort, involving teacher, administrator and parent.
“We’re here to come alongside with the parents,” Ketchum said. “We don’t try to do away with the parents here. We work with the parents. They’re the primary educators, according to God. We’re not.”
Besides teaching prayer in his Bible class, Ketchum employs students for it. The other day in class, Ketchum, who is in his fifth year at Northwest Christian, asked students to pray for him. That transparency, admitting a weakness and a need, was a good teaching point for that class for two reasons. It showed Ketchum’s reliance on prayer and it engaged the class in prayer.
“Prayer is crucial,” he said.
It’s been a circuitous journey for Ketchum. As a child, with his dad moving to different Nazarene churches to pastor, they lived in Utah, Nevada and then Washington, moving to Snoqualmie when he was in second grade. Then, in 1963, when he was in fifth grade, his family moved to Olympia.
At Olympia High School, he met the love of his life, Kathie. Eventually, they married while they were juniors at Northwest Nazarene College in Idaho. Terry remembers their first date.
“We went to a Seattle Symphony performance,” Ketchum said, then after a pause for effect, added with a chuckle, “With the whole school.”
Kathie, who teaches English literature at Northwest Christian, was presented the teacher of the year award last year. The Ketchum’s have been a double blessing for Northwest Christian.
When Weber first met Ketchum, he addressed him as Dr. Ketchum. “I did it out of respect,” Weber said. “He said, ‘No, it’s Terry.’ That shows me he’s a humble man.”
And that’s the type of leadership Ketchum has given, a roll-up-the-sleeves leadership. It’s not been a job for Ketchum. It’s been his passion.
“You can’t be in education if it’s just a job,” he said. “It’s not an 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. job. You do what you love doing. Primarily, you’re doing it for your love of Christ and the betterment of this generation and the impact this generation will have. I love these kids.”
Each day, Ketchum pulls out a class picture of one of the grades at his school and he prays for them.
“We don’t know when Christ is going to return,” Ketchum said. “We tell them that we’re praying for them. Until Christ does return, we’ve got their backs.”