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Maranatha Head of School Set to Retire After Four Decades

By Jonathan Williams
The Outlook

Maranatha High Head of School John Rouse ascended the steps to his office like any other day in 2022, but this time, his heart raced and he felt dizzy.

Rouse was determined to make it to his office. But before long, his assistant and a few others found him on the steps, dizzy and depleted. Though he suffers from atrial fibrillation, he was also a long-distance runner for most of his life, and is not one to easily give up.

But that day, Rouse said he had a moment with God, and realized it was time to move on. The next day, he informed the school’s board of trustees of his decision, signaling the beginning of the end of his tenure at Maranatha, one of the largest Christian schools in the San Gabriel Valley.

After 40 years at the school, John Rouse is ready for the next race, stepping down at the end of the school year to spend more time with his wife and children.

He is being honored at Maranatha’s annual gala next Saturday, March 16, for his four decades of service. The event has been sold out for weeks after the school announced that Rouse would be this year’s honoree.

“Through my life experiences, what I have learned and tried to do in all of my professional life is to give people the opportunity to see themselves as God sees them and have the courage to attempt to be that person,” he said.

He has been married to his wife, Kay, for 43 years. They have three sons who all attended Maranatha.

Rouse spent the first three years of his life in Missouri. His father worked part-time for Santa Fe Railroad while playing professional baseball in the minor leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization. Rouse is one of 12 children; he has eight sisters and three brothers.

Growing up, Rouse said the family’s finances were tight, teaching him the importance of making the best of what you have.

“It’s not about what you get,” he said. “It’s about what you do with what you have.”

The family traveled all over the country, along countless railroad lines, making stops in states like Arizona and New Mexico. They rode in an “outfit car,” a railroad car turned mobile home, stacking mattresses every night that determined where they would sleep.

Photo by Larissa Althouse / John Rouse (left), who is being honored at Maranatha’s annual gala on March 16, is pictured with wife Kay as well as Erica and Dan Newkirk, the school’s current principal.

“To me it’s served as a reminder,” Rouse said. “Life has great things that happen to you and sometimes really challenging things that happen to you. How do you deal with that?”

Eventually, the family settled in Pasadena. He said he wasn’t the best student. He rebelled, often finding himself in the principal’s office at Pasadena High School.

But he did look for affirmation where he could, and became a star runner at the school, winning two state titles before graduating in 1974. He was scouted by college recruiters across the country, including the University of Oregon, one of the nation’s top cross-country programs.

On the precipice of this achievement, Rouse was swimming in a river out in Blythe, a town wedged on the state line between California and Arizona. When he broke the surface of the water, his leg hit a jagged, mangled wrecked car. Broken glass pierced the side of his leg, causing significant blood loss.

When the University of Oregon got word of this, it revoked his athletic scholarship.

“I made a mistake,” Rouse said, recalling regret over jumping in the water. “But I think it really helped me see. … The Bible says we need to be set apart unto God. That’s what being holy means: to be set apart for God.”

“You have to set yourself apart,” he added. “That’s discipline. Part of that is not doing dumb things and I had to learn that.” 

With the dream of NCAA Division I cross-country behind him, Rouse attended Pasadena City College, where he ran a blistering time of 4 minutes, 12 seconds in the mile. He then transferred to California State University, Los Angeles where he ran 3:52 in the 1,500 meters and 1:52 in the 800.

Shortly after college graduation, he began teaching as a substitute at Blair High School for former mayor Jess Hughston in the late 1970s before landing a job at Maranatha, becoming the school’s track coach. He left after a decade following the birth of his first son.

After some time away and going into business with his father, he returned to the school, becoming its athletic director and then dean of admissions, where he earned the nickname “Mr. Maranatha,” because his face would often be the first each new student would see during the interview process. He then became principal and, eventually, was promoted to head of school in the summer of 2019.

Photo courtesy Rouse family / John Rouse coached the Maranatha boys’ cross-country team to the 2003 CIF State title.

Rouse has seen two different campuses during his tenure at Maranatha as it evolved, leaving a legacy of hard work and commitment to the student body of nearly 700. (The lovely campus is on the location of what was formerly Ambassador College.)

He enjoys frequent walks throughout the school’s hallways, checking in on each student he meets.

“I will miss the people,” Rouse said. “I’m going to miss being a part of God’s work here. I think you’re going to see Maranatha rise in this community. [While we will have] accolades, seeing that kids’ lives are changed here for the better and that they are moving on is a reflection of that.”

With two years’ notice, Rouse informed the board at Maranatha that he would be retiring, providing the institution with ample time to seek its new head of school.

As his final school year winds down, he is looking forward to spending quality time with wife, Kay.

He will leave a legacy at Maranatha, something the school’s students, administration and staff will remember long after he’s moved on.

A proud alumnus, Dan Newkirk, met Rouse when he was a freshman at Maranatha High School. Newkirk grew up in Azusa, attending Maranatha and graduating in 1997. He now lives in Glendora and “returned home” to serve as the school’s principal under Rouse. Coincidentally, Newkirk’s father taught with Rouse at Maranatha. Two years ago, during one of their daily meetings, Rouse told Newkirk he’d be retiring.

Newkirk said, like with any change, uncertainty comes, and he wasn’t surprised that Rouse broke the news to him personally. Furthermore, he’s excited for the new chapter in Rouse’s life.

“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Newkirk said. “He has led by example.”

Maranatha Dean of Academics Kimi Nahigian also said she’ll dearly miss Rouse. She’s known the head of school since she was a child, attending Maranatha with Rouse’s youngest son. Their families attended church together and often also spent time together at camps.

“We call him Mr. Maranatha for a reason: He loves his job. … People trust him. They feel heard by him. They feel seen by him,” Nahigian said. “So that makes him a really good leader because people know he cares about them.”

In April, the school will pay tribute to Rouse’s years of service with a celebration, culminating in a fitting end to four decades of commitment to Mr. Maranatha.

“The legacy I’d like to leave would be that our lives are precious,” Rouse said. “Irrespective of who you think you are or how beautiful you are … all those things don’t matter. Your life is precious. Go for it. Don’t settle. Don’t allow others to control your destiny. Just have the courage to be who you are. That’s [the legacy] I hope to leave.”

First published in the March 7 issue of the Outlook

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