The end of an era
LE MARS — The red doors at St. George’s Preschool closed on Thursday, May 17.
Director and head teacher Linda Van De Water is retiring after 26 years at the school.
With her retirement, coupled with economic realities for prospective teachers, the preschool’s board made the painful decision to close the facility after 56 years.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Van De Water said. “I have loved it. I have had wonderful people who have worked with me.”
She has classes for four and five-year-olds three days a week, morning and afternoon sessions, and for three-year-olds two days a week, morning sessions.
She explained the focus of classes is hands-on play, learning social skills, and responsibility to be as independent as possible.
“We are big on manners,” she said.
The preschool board consists of one member of St. George’s Episcopal Church and five others, three of whom are teachers or retired teachers.
“The board members have been wonderful, very supportive also. I couldn’t ask for a better board or people I have worked with. My partner now, Yvette Bowen, is awesome. She’s very good, very patient with the children,” Van De Water said.
With Van De Water’s retirement, the board advertised for a new director/teacher.
“We had three excellent candidates, all working for public schools,” said Kay Luckett, board member and church member.
“All who applied really, really wanted to come here,” Van De Water added.
However, reality set in when the board could not offer insurance or retirement benefits.
“There were no other options, but to close,” Luckett said.
The preschool started in 1964, after a donation to the church funded the construction of the church hall.
“The hall was a gift, and it was to be used to give back to the community. They wanted to have this be a preschool,” Van De Water said. “It was the first preschool in Le Mars.”
Luckett added the church sees it as a good community outreach.
The preschool rents the hall from the church, according to Van De Water. All income comes from tuition fees.
“This building has basically been my home for 26 years and I’m very attached to it,” Van De Water said. “I enjoy working with kids immensely, it’s my passion.”
One of her goals was to instill in the children the love of books.
“We want them to have a good experience so they are lifelong learners,” she said.
Many adults can trace their earliest learning experience to St. George’s Preschool.
Some children are even the second or third generation in their family to attend there.
There are still several things to be worked out with the closing of the preschool, such as furnishings and supplies.
Both Luckett and Van De Water said there have been inquiries about items used in the school, or something coming in to use the facilities.
The hall where the preschool is held is attached to the historic St. George’s Episcopal Church at 400 First Ave. S.E., which was consecrated in 1882. The church building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.