Longtime La Porte preschool to close
La PORTE — A much-loved La Porte institution since 1956 is closing its doors at the end of the school year. St. Paul’s Preschool has educated generations of La Porte children for 66 years.
It began when the Rev. B. Linford Eyrick came to La Porte as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. He and his wife Winnie had three small children.
“I suggested to my husband that he should start a preschool,” Winnie Eyrick said.
They talked to parishioners Claude and Millie Williamson about it, and the result was that “Mrs. Millie” ran the preschool for decades, and Winnie Eyrick was the treasurer and secretary.
There’s a child in the preschool this year, whose father and grandmother also were pupils at St. Paul’s.
Many parishioners helped at the preschool until “Mrs. Millie” retired. Then, Michelle Otwinowski and her sister-in-law, Barb Otolski, served as director and teacher, redirecting the sylabus toward more educational learning, rather than nursery care.
“It was an amazing place to work,″ said Otwinowski. “An opportunity to teach my own children and the children of many friends. I was there for nine or ten years and I have many memories I cherish. I’m so grateful the preschool board trusted us to restructure the program to age-appropriate teaching and Christian philosphies.”
Otwinowski is now a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School where Otolski teaches second grade.
Sue Osborn became director and has happy memories of the preschool.
“I remember the Trike-a-Thons for St. Jude’s when all the families joined us for fun; the innocence and love of the children and the joy on their faces when they learned something new and got positive verbal feedback from the teacher, adult or friend,” said Osborn. “I enjoyed the entertaining family secrets that were shared. Don’t worry, I don’t remember which ones went with whom!”
Osborn retired as director of the school in 2018.
“Mostly I miss the enthusiasm for learning, sharing and developing new friends,” Osborn said.
Lisa Murphy became director in 2018 until she moved to Indianapolis in January this year. Jessica Gillespie, who had taught at the school with Osborn, is the current director.
“St. Paul’s Preschool will always be near and dear to my heart,” Gillespie said. “Not only have I taught at the preschool, but my own children were students here. I feel very blessed b all the families, co-teachers and church affiliates that I have met through teaching at the school.”
Since La Porte Community School Corp. has offered free, five-day-a-week preschool, registration has dropped at St. Paul’s to the point where the parish can no longer afford to subsidize it. A couple of years ago there were 70 students, now half that.
“It was a very difficult, emotional decision for the vestry (parish council) to decide to close the preschool,” said Sandra Provan, senior warden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. “One of my children went to the preschool when “Mrs. Millie” was in charge.”
The end-of-school program will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1000 Michigan Ave., La Porte, on May 23, at 6 p.m., with a reception in the parish house afterward. Anyone with an association with the preschool is invited to attend.
—From staff reports