50 years of Westside daycare for ‘Miss Libby’
Elizabeth Calhoun waved at a room full of preschool youngsters. “My life story is this,” she said. |
By “this” she means 50 years of daycare on the Colorado Springs Westside. The last 45 have been in the same house at 20th Street and Platte Avenue.
That seems like a long time until Calhoun - who prefers to be called “Miss Libby” - talks about what led her to start the Wooden Shoe Day Nursery. The third child (oldest girl) in a family of 17, she spent much of her childhood helping her mother with her younger siblings.
“I can't remember not having a kid in my lap,” Miss Libby recalled.
She was only 18 when she got married. It didn't turn out so well. “I married a guy who was allergic to work,” she frowned.
The only part she remembers with fondness is having two children, both of whom went to become Methodist ministers.
But 50 years ago, there was not a lot of certainty about their future, or hers. “I had a gut feeling I would have to raise them myself,” she said.
Turning to the work she knew best, she started her daycare on Manitou Boulevard in January 1954. For five years, she ran it out of the garage beside her house. Then she “took the plunge,” as she put it, buying the property at 306 N. 20th St. for the then-considerable sum of $16,000. It was a duplex, which she opened out into one unit.
This gave her space for a greater number of kids - though usually no more than 20 because she likes being able to relate to each child individually. It also gave her a second mortgage to pay off. “I don't know how, but I managed,” she said.
The years are testimony to her success. “It's real strange,” she said. “I'll be walking through King Soopers, and someone will remember me. 'Miss Libby,' they'll say. 'You had me when I was 3 years old, and we did this, this and that.' ”
She doesn't always remember them, but a lot of times they make it easy for her by enrolling their own kids at Wooden Shoe.
Miss Libby doesn't advertise, just counts on word of mouth and being in the yellow pages. One way she's different from some daycares is she doesn't require potty-training. “If I had a nickel for every diaper I've changed, I'd be a millionaire,” she said. Another differentiating point is that “most of our kids are from broken homes.” Asked if that was a phenomenon from recent years, she said no, it's always been that way for her nursery.
All in all, she estimated that in her half-century on the Westside she's taken care of “at least a thousand kids.”
Government rules and regulations have become stricter since her business started. “I guess it's good,” she said. “So many children are abused.”
Still, the modern rules have made discipline a little harder to enforce. Nowadays, daycare operators can get in trouble just for raising their voices to children. “And the kids know it,” Miss Libby said.
But one thing has not changed. “Kids are kids,” she observed. “They need tender, loving care, and a lap to sit on and someone to look at their boo-boos when they fall.”
Westside Pioneer Article