Gazette Article by: Marsha Engle-Reinecke
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 1999
Responding to needs of children and community
The year was 1943, and Winnetka women – like their counterparts throughout the U.S. – were eager to participate in the war effort. Since domestic help was nearly impossible to obtain, childcare was a pressing issue. A group of Winnetka mothers formed an advisory board to explore the feasibility of starting a professional nursery school. They went on to obtain a state charter and establish the Winnetka Community Nursery School (WCNS).
On March 8, 1944, the school opened in a pleasant room of the Parish House of Christ Episcopal Church. With an enrollment of 75 children ages three to five, the school moved three months later to temporary quarters at the North Shore Country Day School. Then in September, the school settled into three upstairs rooms and an outdoor play area leased at the Winnetka Community House.
Tuition was 25 cents an hour per child. The school depended heavily on volunteers since equipment, staff and financial resources were limited. As a fund raising effort, in 1945 Phoebe Ryerson hosted in her own backyard a “fair” for young children. Complete with games, contests and even pony rides, it was a great success, raising $500.
Thus began a deep-seated tradition in Winnetka, the annual Children’s Fair. The fair has become increasingly elaborate over the years, enlisting the help of more than 1,000 volunteers annually. Attractions include professional rides, booths, The Main Show theatre production and prizes that draw thousands of children and parents from throughout the North Shore and Chicago area.
For Winnetka school children, the fair marks the official beginning of summer. Children race from their last morning of classes on the Friday of the first weekend of June and head to the Village Green. Most of the profits fund scholarships and special needs. Although the Children’s Fair is perhaps the most visible part of the enterprise, its reason for being is, of course, the nurturing of children. Throughout the years, WCNS made several moves within the Community House as it searched for more permanent quarters. Juliette Macy, one of the first directors, wrote: “I still dream of a ‘home’ for the Nursery School….”
After 27 years, the dream came true on March 6, 1972, when the school moved into the newly built West Wing of the Community House, constructed specifically for the needs of a pre-school. The Winnetka Community Nursery contributed $40,000 to the building fund.
Another important change during this time period echoed the nursery school’s beginnings. While a full-day program at the nursery school had been halted during the 1950s for lack of demand, the need to support the growing numbers of working mothers returned. In response WCNS opened a comprehensive day care program. An article in the Winnetka Talk in January 1975 declared, “Day care in Winnetka! It’s so nice to know that someone cares.”
For two generations, caring and warmth, combined with educational excellence for the young child have flourished as guiding principles of Winnetka Community Nursery School. Today, the school offers half-day and full-day
Programs and serves older two-year-olds through four-year-olds, also offering auxiliary programs such as an art and music class.
Editor’s Note: Taken in part from This House is Ours by George Brodsky.