It all began with the planning and building of a new First Congregational Church. At that time its minister, Reverend Ray Utterback, welcomed the idea of including a weekday nursery school in the new structure. During that same period of time, 1952 to 1957, the need for quality pre-school experiences in Indiana was a growing concern to many. One of the results was the creation of the Indianapolis Council of Preschool Co-operatives (ICPC).
When the congregation moved into its new building at 7171 N. Pennsylvania, in 1957, Hilda West called together the women in the church who she knew had a special interest in offering a nursery school to their community. The West family had given the land for a new church to the congregation. Nancy Roeske assisted Hilda West in organizing a nursery school under the guidance of the Indianapolis Council of Preschool Cooperatives. Mary Batrick was found through an ad in the Northside Topics and hired to teach the first class when it met in January of 1960.
An agreement was reached with the church for the nursery school to use one classroom in the lower level along with the permanent equipment, which belonged to the Sunday School. The nursery school supplemented this equipment with additional materials along with tricycles which the children rode in the community room or the parking lot. The small swing set and the green climber comprised the initial outdoor playground and are still used today.
In the summer of 1961, Dessie Partenheimer arrived in Indiana looking for a nursery school for her children. And at that time the school was looking for a new teacher. Dessie had done graduate work at Purdue University while working at Early Childhood Lab School and at the University of California, Berkeley. She had owned her own early childhood program in Mobile, Alabama, and had formed co-operative playgroups for her children in California. At MHCNS&K she enrolled her children, was hired as teacher until 1974 and then as director until 1982.
By 1963 a waiting list was growing so it was decided to add a four-year-old class to make it possible for more children to benefit from the school. Lynn Doyne was hired as teacher and her son, Billy, joined the three-year-old-class. With well equipped rooms, a stable staff and full enrollment it was decided to undertake fulfilling a dream — a fenced playground to provide safe as well as stimulating and creative play.
By the fall of 1965 the children could begin climbing up ladders, peeking out of portholes and sliding down the firefighter’s pole donated by the fire station on 30th Street. Dessie and Lynn designed the creative treehouse with the guidance of Lynn’s mother, who was a landscape architect. Carl Rothe, a school father, provided final details and drawings. Incidentally, Carl can still be found in the halls of the church helping to maintain the building as well as help with nursery school projects. The contractor was Ronald McConkey, an uncle of a MHCNS&K student. The Rothes and other parents continued to work in the play yard that summer. The outdoor animal pen which has been the source of many hilarious animal stories was added at this time. The cost of labor and materials for the playground, including the paved patio and trike runs, storage sheds, fencing, and digging area were paid for with a $2,750 bank loan signed by three school fathers. This project set an example of dedication and hard work by the parents and staff for the years to follow.
Chapter 1, Continued
Next came an indoor project with labor and supplies donated by Barry Bartle, another nursery school father. The two story playhouse has been a very popular place for “family life” since 1970. Other indoor equipment made by creative parents during this time includes smocks, the rocking horse designed by Nancy Woolen, and large bulletin boards built by John Partenheimer. Dessie’s charming and persuasive talents were evidenced as she acquired a large cement culvert, gratis, and a slide and a set of eight park swings from Meridian Hills Country Club. The new equipment, two very qualified teachers, and enthusiastic parents resulted in increasing enrollment. Carol Kohls joined the staff in 1968 making it possible to add two more classes. Under the imaginative and energetic leadership of Dessie and her excellent staff, MHCNS&K continued to grow and gain a name for excellence in the co-operative movement and the community. The staff shared their talents with the nursery school families as well as with ICPC workshops and conferences.
By 1973 Lynn and Carol faced changes in their family, both moving away from Indianapolis and leaving two classes without lead teachers. Dessie immediately found Carol Canada, a recent Purdue graduate, who was also from Purdue University Lab School Early Childhood. At the end of each year, a certificate was presented to departing parents offering them a “free participating day” in the classroom to assuage their yearning for the “good old days” at MHCNS. Please permit me to digress for a minute as I relate my introduction to Dessie. In 1965, I attended my first ICPC Conference. During one of the breaks I came upon Dessie and Lynn Doyne having a discussion. Actually it was Dessie persuading Lynn to teach at MHCNS&K. I watched Dessie work her magic on Lynn, who was a friend of mine. Before she knew what was happening, Lynn was on board. Almost ten years later, Dessie began to work her persuasive powers on me. The end result was me leaving my maternity/sabbatical leave from Willowcreek Co-op to teach a class of Chickadees at MHCNS&K. Prior to this, Dessie had informally mentored me during my early days of teaching at Willowcreek, and I had attended some of her workshops at ICPC. My son, Jeremy, joined my class of Chickadees and, together we began a wonderful adventure at MHCNS&K. Jeremy graduated at the end of 1976, but I stayed on for another 24 years.
As you might expect it was a challenge to fill the shoes and follow in the footsteps of Dessie. It took two of us to do just that. Sharon Hunt, a MHCNS&K parent taught the Redbirds and Carol Canada continued one more year with two classes. Both Sharon and Carol left at the end of that year when I added a Redbirds class to my contract and Dixie Taylor took over Carol’s classes, with Sheila Milliken joining the staff for one year. During this time our school logo made its appearance borrowed from some wrapping paper from a birthday party. It can still be found throughout the school. By 1982 Dessie having launched and guided a new staff retired to focus on life with her new husband, Stuart Koch.
As has been the case with every new MHCNS&K venture, the parents rallied to make this addition possible. Claudia Fagan, a parent, and her crew of professional workers designed and built a play area in the middle room upstairs. A new wooden climber, triangle climbers, a sensory table, more hollow blocks and Jeremy Robinson’s work bench were also added. Candy Hammond became a teacher of the Wrens (3’s) and another chapter of MHCNS&K history was begun in 1984. With the arrival of Candy, a new tradition began — home visits to the children in the three’s class. As September approached, Candy and Shari armed themselves with camera, a stuffed animal, some Unifix cubes (items which the children would find when they came to school) and set out to visit the incoming three’s. These visits ran the gamut of experiences including stepping over dirty laundry in the basement in order to get to a family guinea pig; being taken next door to meet the incoming child’s best friend; to arriving at the wrong address looking rather foolish armed with a camera and a stuffed animal. Candy added the Hummingbird class to her duties in the fall of 1985.
In 1986, Connie Dust, president, introduced colorful red and brass plaques to be presented to departing families who had been participating for at least five years. To organize the classes and insure better communication a file box was placed in the downstairs hallway to receive and provide necessary information for board members and parents. She also designed a pendant with the nursery school logo, which she presented to the director. Later, the tradition became to present a pendant to the retiring school presidents.
As our enrollment and classes grew, our staff was motivated to grow also. While we had always been active in ICPC conferences and workshops as well as the Teachers’ Study Groups, it seemed timely to take advantage of the professional offerings of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). When possible, we began to attend the national conferences and the Indianapolis Association for the Education of Young Children. Our school was featured on a tour of attendees at a Midwest AEYC conference and we served dinner to the visiting board members of Parent Preschool International. We developed a sense of pride and professionalism as a result of these activities. It was rewarding to attend a convention with thousands of others who had chosen to work for and with young children. It was encouraging to find that we weren’t “just a nursery school teacher.” We were active advocates for some special little people.
This became an impetus for seeking NAEYC accreditation in 1988; a process which we voluntarily took part in to verify our status as a quality program for young children. Our school was the first co-op in the city to do so and shared honors with Castleton Methodist Preschool for being the first preschools to take part. The accreditation reinforced our dedication to continuing the path on which we were launched in 1961.
As of 1986 our flock of birds had grown to include Wrens and Hummingbirds upstairs along with the Chickadees, Redbirds, Robins and Bluebirds downstairs. In 1987, Gail Rice joined us for a year to teach the Robins, followed in 1989 by Annette Docktor who taught a class of Redbirds. Dawn Kazarian taught the Robins for one year. The classrooms were humming with joy and the busy-ness of young children. A new fire truck, built by Emily and Howdy Gilchrist, was added to our playground and is still on the playground today.
One thing we became very good at was responding to a need for additional classes and providing challenges to existing classes. In 1989, there was a strong interest for offering an extended day. Candy Hammond took on this task by offering an extended day one day a week for the months of February and March. This provided some enrichment activities for the children and helped to counter the familiar winter malady called “Cabin Fever” for young children and their parents. Each week a different area of interest was pursued including trains, boats and favorite nursery rhyme themes such as The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Bears. One highlight of this offering was Candy’s class presenting their own ballet after visiting the Butler Ballet. Back at school, the children performed their own ballet by creating a stage out of hollow blocks and training their stage lights (flashlights) on prima ballerinas in pink tutu’s being “lifted” by boy dancers — a grand performance.
In 1990, it became evident that our wonderful outdoor treehouse, which had delighted children since the 1960’s, needed to be replaced. One of our fathers, Tom Waugh, began building the replacement in his garage. The project was completed and installed with the help of our ready workforce — our parents. That climber was modified two years later when it was lowered and tires for climbing were attached to the side. A new firefighter’s pole was donated by the Reel family to replace the pole from the fire house on 30th Street.
A need for change in our programming occurred in 1987 after the State Legislature of Indiana changed its entry date, for kindergarteners to June l. This was the result of a misguided belief that moving the entrance date back would make the children “more ready” for the kindergarten programs that were being offered. In the fall of 1990 our school responded to this by offering a class for those who missed the state cut-off date (young five’s) and including older four’s whose birthdays were before December. Candy was the first to teach this class. That same year it was decided to drop the Redbirds class of four’s. The Robins class (three’s) was dropped in the fall of 1991.
Ginny Hacker joined the staff in 1991 to replace Candy Hammond who had resigned to teach full time kindergarten for At Your School Services in Washington Township. This could be thought of as the fourth chapter of MHCNS&K history. We were so fortunate to have a reservoir of talented teachers among our parents. Ginny was one of those parents. Over the years, out of a staff of twenty-four teachers, sixteen had been parents of our nursery school children. Ginny was with us as a teacher from 1991 through spring of 1996 when she resigned to seek full-time work. During her years of teaching Wrens and Hummingbirds, Ginny brought many delightful experiences to her classes. Her little Wrens loved to sing: “Waaay up in the sky the little birds fly. Waaaay down in the nest the little birds rest!” Oobleck oozing through the fingers was a wonderfully messy favorite activity. And, during Ginny’s tenure, a new tradition was established. In 1996 Ginny’s Hummingbird class was all girls. Ginny, the mother of two boys decided to have her class host a Mothers’ Day Tea. With the enthusiastic assistance of Beth Breymier, the girls made little sandwiches, decorated cookies, created flower-bedecked hats and invited their mothers to join them for tea. This tradition is still carried on in the Robins and Kinderbirds classes but now includes boys, dressed in Sunday best (complete with hand-painted ties) along with girls in their finery.
Before we stray too far, it should be mentioned that the children, parents and teachers planted daffodil bulbs in the fall of 1991 in memory of our dear former president, Connie Dust.
A very significant historical incident took place in the spring of 1993. Linda Lafollette, a Butler University early childhood education major came to our school for a semester of student-teaching under my tutelage. Linda had attended MHCNS&K as one of the birds from 1966 through 1968. As a student teacher, she found many of her favorite things still in the classrooms: the hollow blocks, the rocking horse barrel and the triangles for jumping. Having been in business since I961, it shouldn’t be surprising to find alums returning with their precious families. The return of these families speaks volumes about the on-going excellence of our program. I was to experience the joy of having the child of an alum, my granddaughter, in my 1997 Chickadee class. Isabelle Barnard, the daughter of Peter Barnard and my daughter, Lizbeth, became a member of the last Chickadees class that I was to teach. Isabelle’s Aunt Laura, Aunt Sarah, and Uncle David had all attended MHCNS&K. Their mother, Betsy Barnard, served as President in 1968-69. Sarah Lootens may have been the first alum to return with her children.
Getting back to our teaching staff Ginny and I had the joy of teaching together for five years. We each taught a class of three’s and a four’s class. We were assisted by Carol House who taught one class of four’s for one year, and by Diane Beardsley who taught a three/four’s class for two years. In 1994, Cathy Farney took on one four’s class for two years. When Ginny left in l996, Cathy and I each taught a three’s and four’s class. In 1998-99 Shelley Leer and Joan Brandt each taught a Chickadee and Wrens class for one year while Cathy and I took on our last Hummingbird and Bluebird Class. A log cabin was added to the playground in the fall of 1996 and dedicated to Ginny Hacker and Shari Ronbinson by then current president, Lisa Hurst in 1995-1996.