Loving a life with Playschool
● By J. Chambless
'Miss Jean' with some rambunctious Playschool kids in 1971. (Photo courtesy of Charlestown Playhouse)
This year, the school honored a woman
who has been involved with Playschool in one capacity or another for
Jean Lacy, who celebrates her 90th birthday in September, distinctly recalls the first time she came to Playschool. “I was about 10 years old and my friend, Alice Umstead, who was a couple years older, wanted to come here to see a boy. I was just so taken with the openness of this place; with a huge window looking out onto the outside play area,” she said.
For a few years, Lacy would come by in the summer and play with the younger children. “I remember I was playing with the Cannon twins, and I saw Miss Betty looking at me in the stern way she would. I thought, ‘Uh oh, she’s going to tell me I have to leave.' Instead she said, 'If you’ll come every day, I’ll pay you $7 a week.'”
So for the next several years, Lacy, who lived on a nearby 100-acre dairy farm, would get a ride to Playschool – often in the milk truck with her dad – and do whatever she could to help. After graduating high school, Lacy thought she should get “out in the world,” so she attended Pierce Business College and then worked briefly in Philadelphia.
“I got that out of my system pretty quickly,” she said, laughing. “I came right back to Playschool, certain that it was where I belonged. And basically, I never really left since.
“Betty made me a part of her family,” Lacy said, recalling her dear friend who passed away in 2003 at age 97. “She was such an idol to all of us. And I am so glad that [Playschool] is still so much the way she wanted it.”
Over the years, and against her protests, Lacy advanced from being a helper to a teacher. She credits Stonorov and Ruth Bacon, who was an early teacher and big supporter of Playschool, for coaching her and giving her confidence to take on the role of head teacher in the two-year-old classroom.
Although she taught or assisted in all the classrooms, Lacy said, “I have always felt most at home with the youngest ones.” Among the young ones she taught was future star Kevin Bacon. Although he and older brother Michael (who spent time as a camp counselor at Playschool) both went on to illustrious acting and music careers, they sent “Miss Jean” letters of thanks and congratulations that were read at the party held in her honor.
Lacy plans to be back at Playschool in the fall.
“They’re expecting me,” she said with a grin, explaining that she is volunteer now and “they let me do my own thing. Mostly I sit and I read to the kids. It’s like a little refuge corner when they need some quiet time.”