Wild Ducks and Duckies day care owner retires after 22 years | TheUnion.com

Wild Ducks and Duckies day care owner retires after 22 years

Carolyn Stover reads a book to Shyann Harkin, Bailey Pitman and Keith Wilson at Wild Ducks and Duckies Day Care, located on the Chicago Park School campus, in April. Stover, 81, retired earlier this year after operating the day care for more than two decades.
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

For 22 years, children who have attended Wild Ducks and Duckies — a private day care located on the campus of Chicago Park School — have been greeted by Carolyn Stover.

“The second you walk through the doors, she knows your name, she knows who you are, she offers you a snack,” said Kelley Beach, 20, a former Chicago Park student who attended Wild Ducks and Duckies. “She’s just really inviting and welcoming.”

Beach remembers the day care as a home away from home for her and her peers — largely due to the connection the kids formed with Stover.

“I can’t imagine my time at Chicago Park without her being there,” Beach said.

Stover, 81, retired in January. On Thursday morning, Chicago Park School will hold a ceremony to honor Stover and her more than two decades of commitment to the community’s children. The ceremony will take place under the campus’ shade structure at 8 a.m., as part of the school’s annual volunteer appreciation celebration. Stover will be honored with a bell-ringing ceremony and a special presentation.

Stover is originally from Southern California; she built a career working as an oncology nurse. She began thinking seriously about working with children while looking for a preschool for her granddaughter. Before finally finding a program she liked, she visited several that weren’t the right fit.

“I thought, I can do this better,” Stover said.

Though it was a career shift, Stover immediately took to teaching preschool.

“My favorite thing watching kids learn is when their eyes get big and they go, ‘Oh!’” Stover said.

When she relocated to Nevada County in 1994, she opened Wild Ducks and Duckies out of her Chicago Park home; she cared for three children.

That number continued to grow; eventually, the board of trustees at Chicago Park School offered her a vacant room on the campus, where Stover operated the day care five days a week for children ranging from as young as 3 years old to eighth-graders in their early teens.

Stover said she focused on providing the kids with opportunities to learn and engage with the world around them. They read books and newspaper articles, and grew vegetables in the garden. Stover tried to make every moment a teaching moment.

“Kids need to make things and do things and see it and then they know it,” she said.

And when the kids took on an activity, Stover was right there alongside them, Beach said.

Beach recalled the day care had a play kitchen. She and her peers would pretend to be running a restaurant, and Stover was their best customer.

“She was always willing to sit down at that teeny tiny table and in that teeny tiny chair and eat our plastic food,” Beach said.

Whenever the kids had an idea for a project, Stover was the first to say yes — but encouraged students to take the lead.

“She created an environment in her classroom that was really just always challenging us and always making us do a little more, push a little farther,” Beach said.

It’s Stover’s nurturing personality that enabled her to develop lasting relationships with the students at Wild Ducks and Duckies, said Robin Johnston, who teaches third grade at Chicago Park School. Johnston said Stover was like a second mother to many of those children; several of them still keep in touch, and come back to the day care to visit.

“You know how they say it takes a village?” Johnston said. “She was one of our village mainstays, one of our village leaders.”

Stover said she has no idea how many children have passed through Wild Ducks and Duckies during her tenure there. However, she said, Chicago Park School recognized her back in January in front of the student body; Johnston asked all of the students who had attended Stover’s day care to move from one side of the gym to the other.

Pretty much all of the students moved, Stover said.

“It was really amazing,” she said.

Retirement is bittersweet, Stover said. She’s looking forward to having more time to garden, paint and pursue other hobbies. But nearly every day, she comes across a magazine article or a project she wishes she could share with the children at Wild Ducks and Duckies. Just the other day, the chickens on her property were able to chew through some fencing and eat her newly planted sunflowers.

“The kids would have gotten a kick out of that,” Stover said.

Wild Ducks and Duckies will remain operational at Chicago Park School — Stover sold the day care upon her retirement — and Stover said she’ll return to visit and read to the children.

Though she’ll no longer be there each day to greet the kids who enter Wild Ducks and Duckies, her impact on the Chicago Park School community won’t soon be forgotten, Beach said.

“We all love her so much, and there’s a huge group of kids that are forever thankful for her and what she’s done for us,” Beach said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

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