Children wait in line for an animal balloon at a June 8 picnic to honor the closing of Joytime Preschool in Lake Forest. | Natalie Hayes~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 13, 2013 2:21AM
More than six decades of alumni from a popular Lake Forest preschool gathered last weekend to share memories and say goodbye to Joytime Preschool and its owner, Kathleen Hodgen.
In a quaint little building sitting in the cul-de-sac of a quiet neighborhood on Lake Forest’s Maywood Road, Joytime Preschool has served thousands of students and multiple generations of Lake County families since original owners Joy and Earle Hodgen opened it as a daycare business in 1953.
Joytime was turned into a preschool in 1962, and for 60 years was known fondly to locals as the go-to neighborhood preschool.
Over the decades while commercial schools began popping up and replacing many of the “mom-n-pop” type operations, Joytime remained mostly unchanged, and continued to maintain its presence as a family-run business, Hodgen said.
Many adult Joytime alumni sent their own children to the school years later, and when those kids grew up, they would do the same when they had children of their own.
Lifelong Lake Forest resident Laura Siebert Griffith attended Joytime until 1974 and later enrolled her two young daughters in the school.
“The closing is really bittersweet,” Griffith said. “There were so many fond memories made here, and because it’s going to be sad to know it’s not here anymore.”
The Hodgens’ daughter Kathleen Hodgen, who has overseen the preschool as its director since 1999, said she felt it was just the right time to close down.
“I think after 60 years, now is a good time to retire,” Hodgen said.
Kathleen took over the school as director after her mother died, but traces of Joy and Earle’s personalities can be found everywhere — in a quiet garden Joy created long ago that still sits in the backyard of the school, and former students say a donated popcorn machine serves as a reminder of Earle, because he was known to many as the “popcorn man.”
The goodbye picnic Saturday offered alumni the chance to reminisce about memories and talk about what made Joytime different than other preschools.
Retired teacher Alice Zuber said it’s rare to find a neighborly, family-run preschool in modern times.
“Other schools are run more like businesses,” Zuber said. “This is more of a family-run institution.”
Some of the best memories, Zuber said, took place outside in the school’s backyard, which was turned into a toddler’s fairytale land of jungle gyms and sandboxes, a mini sledding mound and junior-sized swimming pools.
The pools were brought inside each year for the ever-popular “summer in winter” day, where winter blues were forgotten when the inside of the school was turned into an indoor waterpark on one cold winter day each year.
“The kids would bring their swimsuits and play in the water with toys all day — they loved it,” Zuber said.
The picnic brought out alumni of all ages, including more recent generations like third-grader Patrick Lindemann and his friend fourth-grader Brody Hender.
The boys spent some quiet time sitting on a bench inside “Joy’s Peaceful Garden,” a quiet garden space created by Joy Hodgen as a relaxing place for her students.
“There are so many memories here,” Zuber said. “The community worked together to make it a special place — it was always all about families.”