In our time, when the importance of the first few years of life is well documented, it is hard to imagine the early childhood landscape that Mary Evans entered mid- 20th century. As the first Director of the Weekday School (now the Preschool), she developed a philosophy for young children that was respectful and celebrative of their particular time of life. Its essential hallmarks were validation and acceptance of any feeling that a child might have, reasonable boundaries that helped children feel safe, and the value of exploratory, imaginative play. These core values still guide teachers in the Preschool and the Mary Evans Child Development Center.
Her philosophy for the classroom would have been a wonderful legacy alone, but Mary’s outreach also extended to parents. She began weekly Parent Growth groups to help parents learn better ways to respond to children, ways that they could choose instead of the “default” methods they carried from their own upbringing. By helping parents understand themselves first, and then understand child development, she had a profound effect on several generations of Parent Growth participants. She shared her wisdom about parenting in regular columns in the church newsletter as well as ThisWeek newspapers. She recorded a series of videos for parents in which she distilled her lifelong values.
As the first Director of Early Childhood Ministries she developed, with other education staff, a seamless approach to education from early childhood through adulthood. Mary began the children’s Christmas Eve services that tell the Christmas story with real people – and, in the past, real animals! She was a frequent presenter of programs for adults at church, including role-playing workshops. She met individually with many adults and couples for counseling, which she continued for some years after her retirement.
Outside the walls of First Community Church, she was a teacher and mentor to college students and new teachers, offering her wisdom and insight as the field of early childhood expanded and deepened. She served her chosen profession in every capacity, never losing sight of its primary focus, the young children themselves.
My own life was forever changed when I walked into the Preschool with my first child. I am sure that there are hundreds of people who benefited, as I did, from Mary Evans’ long tenure as an advocate for children and families. She was also a model for the post-retirement years, spending nearly all of her 25 years since retirement with an active open mind, curiosity and interests beyond herself.
First Community Church was deeply important to Mary and it would not be the same place without her long years of devotion and advocacy. In the Preschool and the Mary Evans Center her legacy continues to be lived out for today’s young children, whose paths are just like those of the 1950’s in essential ways. Many families have come to the church through the doors of early childhood programs. May her legacy live on as a fitting testimony to her passionate belief in the child and the family.