WARSAW — Hephzibah House, a private boarding school for teenage girls that stirred controversy and attention for decades, has closed its doors.
Located on East Pierceton Road near Winona Lake, Hephzibah House has been widely criticized through the years, with some former students claiming they were victims of sexual abuse and were subjected to corporal punishment.
In addition, Benjamin Williams, son of Hephzibah House Founder Pastor Ron Williams, has spoken out publicly about the “emotional, spiritual, mental and physical abuse” that went on there during his childhood.
According to a March 27 Facebook post by Benjamin Williams, it appears the school was closed down sometime in the past week or two.
A copy of a letter apparently written by Ron Williams is circulating online. An excerpt from the letter reads, “This was neither our choice nor desire. We had received word from our insurance carrier that they were dropping our coverage, making our ministry for girls untenable.”
“My guess is it’s a combination of things,” said Benjamin Williams. “Insurance, lack of students and losing support.”
Ron Williams and his wife, the late Patti Williams, started Hephzibah House in 1971. The home was originally at 508 School Street in Winona Lake. Around 1984, the girls were moved to the current facility at 2277 E. Pierceton Road, Warsaw. This location included Believers Baptist Church, a school and staff houses.
A statement from Ron Williams was provided to InkFreeNews by Pastor Dave Halyaman, who served as the assistant director of Hephzibah House. It was requested that the statement be posted in its entirety. The statement reads:
“Hephzibah House has been based in the Winona Lake area for almost 49 years. The Faith Community has been prominent in our county since 1894, the beginning of the Winona Lake Bible Conference. Our ministry has been blessed to have been a small part of that Bible-based heritage.
Through the decades, desperate parents have brought their troubled teen daughters from all 50 states and from some foreign countries, (daughters of American Missionaries) to our ministry.
Some of these girls are now serving in full-time Christian ministry. Others went on to become Godly wives and mothers and productive members of society. Still others went back to their old way of life. The consecrated staff of Hephzibah House loved and cared for each of these troubled souls, and though we are now closed, we continue to love and pray that each of our former students would have a grand success of the Christian life, or as a responsible member of their community.
We want to express our thanks and appreciation to so many county residents who have made us feel welcome, have donated to our work and have prayed for us and encouraged us over these many years.
God bless each and every one of you. It has been a rich blessing to be a part of our wonderful area. We all have felt “at home” with such superb and encouraging neighbors.”
Benjamin Williams, who appeared on two episodes of “The Dr. Phil Show” in January to discuss Hephzibah House abuse allegations, expressed concern that the home may continue operating under a new name.
An excerpt from the letter reportedly written by Ron Williams refers to an organization called Armed Forces Baptist Mission and reads, “That ministry will be establishing Hope Christian Camp on our campus; a work specifically targeting individuals suffering from “wounded spirits” and PTSD. This will be under the authority of our local church.” The letter goes on to say that it is not anticipated that this transition will be completed until around the end of the year.
“I am very concerned about their changing all the assets over to this PTSD group,” Benjamin Williams said. “There has been no sorrow, no repentance, no admitting of any wrongdoing.”
“The same people that have covered over the abuse are still there. The entire thing is a sham and disgrace,” said Benjamin Williams. “So a home that has caused PTSD for 48 years and denies that any girl or staff child has PTSD and (says) that we are all just rebels and in sin — this very place is now rebranding as a home for PTSD…oh, the irony.”
When asked about rumors that Hephzibah House may be reopening under a new name, potentially as a PTSD treatment center, in the future, Halyaman’s response was, “No, the ministry is completely closed.”
Ron Williams defended the school in a statement to a reporter two years ago: “We do not nor have we ever, abused our students. We do love them and encourage them to resolve their personal problems by learning to live a God-pleasing life, and to become personally responsible for their behavior. Some of our girls are now in some form of Christian ministry, others are now godly wives and mothers and/or responsible, contributing members of society. Others have gone back to the habits that initially motivated their parents to enroll them in our school. Corporal correction was discontinued in the mid-1990s. Consequently, we could no longer receive students who were advanced in their rebellion.”
Two years ago, a group of women from out of state returned to Winona Lake to confront the doctor who they say performed unnecessary vaginal exams on them during the time they resided at Hephzibah House. They also pressed for action by the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office and the prosecutor’s office.
They told a reporter at the time they believed the abuse may still be happening.
Others have remained wary of Hephzibah House.
“I am determined the truth will be told,” said Benjamin Williams. “Accountability is still coming.”
– Reporter Dan Spalding contributed to this report.