For the past thirty-one-plus years, Willie Bell has awakened each morning ready to take on what a day of teaching and nurturing two, three and four-year olds would bring. While serving as the Preschool Director and Teacher at First Presbyterian’s Child Development Program, Ms. Willie estimates that she has probably taught close to 1,000 children their first learning experiences in school life. That’s thirty-one years of teaching children their ABC’s, numbers, social interaction, and all the other important first steps in how grow up to be good students and citizens. She believes that it’s not good for kids to be bored. They need to be kept interested in learning. She likes to investigate what’s fun. As a result of this, she is known for her versatile style of teaching, and is famous for her “Out of the Room Learning Units” such as Carnival Week, Farm Week, Circus Week, and the Transportation Fair. She has done her best to bring in outside help from members of the community such as emergency responders, medical health professionals, and military members, among others. She laughs and says “When I start making my phone calls, they always ask if it’s that time of year, again! But they’re always ready to jump in and have fun with the kids.”
She actually got started by keeping children in her home, and then she moved on to subbing at the W and eventually was contacted by First Presbyterian’s former Pre-K Director, Marion Redwood, about a job there. Having said yes, it has been a wonderful and rewarding career ever since. “I still remember the children as being 2 and 3 years old. I don’t care how old they are now, they’re still my kids!” What she likes the most is the chance to “love these children, and seeing them grow and watch them learn and change from day to day. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most”. One of her fondest memories came from a 3 year old little girl who could write everybody’s name. They all asked her to do it. “Write my name” they’d ask every day. Ms. Willie laughed and said, “They didn’t ask any of the teachers to do it, the kids all wanted her to do it. She’s married now, and is probably still writing names.” She credits her wonderful staff over the years with helping keep the program so successful. Two of the current teachers will continue to run the Pre-K program as co-directors, beginning next fall.
Her big plans for retirement are to enjoy spending time with her husband, Bill, their three children and five grandchildren. “Bill is ready for me to retire. He’s happy he won’t have to cut any more wood items, and fix things, build shelves, set concrete, etc… I don’t know where we’re going to put all the stuff he’s made for me over the years. Our attic is full!” She also plans to work with and train her Helflinger work horse. She inherited an honest-to-goodness surrey from her late father and wants to train the horse to pull it.
When asked about any advice she’d give to parents these days, she was very quick to respond, “Please, be your children’s PARENTS, not their friends. You can be friends when they’re adults. Be there for them, love them, and show it.” She believes that the Lord has blessed this program and carried it for many years. “There’s not ever been a day I haven’t wanted to come to work. I have loved my work. To me, it’s not been a job, but a joy!”
First Presbyterian Church of Columbus plans to honor her career dedication during the worship service on May 5th and with a reception afterwards. All current and former students and family and friends are invited to attend.