Early learning center
Stonybrook, Kidwell celebrate 40 years
As an educator at Stonybrook Early Learning Center, Becky Kidwell has touched the lives of thousands of local children over the past 40 years.
"What isn't there to like about having kids give you a hug in the morning?" she said. "It can't get any better."
Kidwell, a 1971 Gahanna Lincoln High School graduate, started working at the preschool at Stonybrook United Methodist Church in 1973 as an assistant teacher. She became the center's director in 1980.
"I did my student teaching here," she said. "My degree is in early childhood education. For me, I couldn't picture myself doing anything else. Being with young children, that's been my whole world."
Dr. Ralph Napolitano Jr., of New Albany Podiatry, was in one of Kidwell's first classes.
"I remember a very caring environment," he said. "I was always excited to go to school. I have fond memories. It was a very nurturing, fun environment. That's my recollection as a student."
Now he wants to give that same experience to his children.
"We're thrilled to send our daughter, Mira, there, and when my son, Rocco, is ready, we'll send him," Napolitano said. "She has an excellent, open communication policy and a way of sharing education."
Jennifer M. Millenbaugh, Stonybrook board member, said Kidwell is a pillar of the Gahanna community through her involvement with the successful preschool program, as well as 25 years she has spent running the Gahanna Safety Town program through the Mifflin Township Fire Department.
"Many adults in the community have benefited not only by having Becky teach them directly but also their children as the next generation grows in Gahanna," Millenbaugh said. "She has dedicated her professional adult life to serving."
Kidwell, 60, said she's fortunate.
"There aren't too many people who've been at something for 40 years and they still love it," she said. "I hope I've (positively) touched other lives. It's just amazing to see these kids grow so quickly. In a way, the last 40 years seems like a long time, but in another sense, it has flown by."
She said former Stonybrook pastor Gary Boucher was instrumental with the preschool.
"The minister in the beginning said, 'Why not have a pre-school?' " she said. "The Sunday school rooms were empty during the day. We are a mission of Stonybrook United Methodist Church. This came about as a result of people at the church wanting to extend themselves into the community."
Part of the center's mission statement is, "Through experiences, we will help your child develop self-expression, self-control, creativity and responsibility. We provide a relaxed, loving atmosphere while developing the child's social, emotional, physical and intellectual growth."
Kidwell said the church and center always would be special to her, especially because its namesake came from her late father, James Kidwell.
"He was a milkman, and he was all over the place," she said. "Off Havens Corner, there was a Stonybrook Lane. He thought the name, Stonybrook, was fitting because you come in over a creek. He suggested the name."
She said she would continue to work there as long as her health allows.
The preschool operates September through May, generally coordinating with the Gahanna-Jefferson school calendar.
Children ages 3 to 5 may attend for a fee.
Kidwell said a cookies-and-coffee event tentatively is planned for this fall to celebrate the 40th anniversary with current and former staff members.