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'Founding mother' of Pa. day-care center honored

June 21, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - When it opened its doors on Feb. 14, 1972, the Waynesboro Day Care Center had two teachers, seven students and a group of volunteers whose goal was to provide affordable day care for the community.

On Saturday, Polly Moyer, one of those original "founding mothers" was honored with a retirement reception and dinner at the Waynesboro home of Peggy Weller, president of the board of directors. The secretary for the center's board of directors since its inception, Moyer was joined by many of those still surviving, who made the nonprofit center possible.

"We had no day-care places at all back in 1972, so we decided that can't be," Moyer said Saturday. The idea, however, was met by some resistance from the people it was intended to benefit, she said.

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"We had a hard time fighting to convince the mothers in Waynesboro that we really needed something like this," Moyer said. Some mothers felt that putting their children in day care so that they could work was "shirking their duty," she said.

"We visited each of the industries ... and asked them if they had people that wanted to work but couldn't because of their family responsibilities," said Jean Bridgers, the first director of the center. "They did say there was a need."

At the time, Bridgers said, the only preschool program in the Waynesboro area operated out of a church.

"I stood, literally, on a soap box and said 'we have this service that's going to help you,'" Bridgers said of a visit she made to a knitting mill. With the cost based on the parents' ability to pay, she said the offer still met with skepticism.

Two local businessmen were instrumental in getting the center a place to operate, Weller said. J. Martin Benchoff and the late Harold Hess decided to back the center with anonymous donations to buy the former Washington Township School.

"I wanted to help the children ... and I had the money to give them, so Hess and I got together and did the job," said Benchoff, who was CEO of Grove Manufacturing at the time.

Along with Moyer and Bridgers, original committee members Mary Lou Benchoff and Helen Overington were at the reception. The late Marion Grove, another founding mother, and Harold Hess were represented at the reception by family members.

"You women realized that, for whatever reason, there were women who were unable to be home with their children," Weller said. "You not only wondered who took care of these children, you came up with a vision for the center and you worked hard to make it happen," she said.

"Our programs are not simply baby-sitting. We stimulate and challenge our children," Weller said.

Director Kris Zaruba said the center now has 150 students and 29 full-time teachers and assistants. The center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. with before- and after-school programs for ages 18 months to 12 years, in addition to the programs it initially established for preschoolers and kindergartners, she said.

Last year, Zaruba said the center began weeklong summer cultural camps for school-age children. Last week, children learned about the French language, arts, music and cooking. This week, ancient Egypt and Rome are the subjects of the camp.

Because of the sliding-fee scale based on income, Zaruba said the center has children from diverse backgrounds.

Three of the center's first teachers, Esther Cowdrick, Elva Pentz and Mary Kay McCleary, also attended the reception.

Pentz and Cowdrick, who between them taught at the center for more than 50 years, said children they once taught later brought their own children to the center.

"I guess we're getting a lot of technology we didn't have before that makes teaching easier, but the children still have the same needs they had 32 years ago - love and affection," Moyer said.

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