MANNINGTON, W.Va. (WBOY) — Mary Jo Elliott is an arguably influential piece of Mannington, as she’s seen many of the town’s kids grow up.
She’s been the owner of Wonderland Child Care and Learning Center for 30 years. It all started because she didn’t have a teaching job after college.
“The original owner, Teresa Michael, she called me and said ‘Hey, I need a preschool teacher. Would you be interested?’ And, because I had no other job prospects lined up, I thought ‘I’ll give it a try.’ Walked in the door the first day, I fell in love with it. A year later, she decided she was selling, she was getting out of the business. My husband and I discussed it, we got our finances together. 30 years later, this is where we’re at,” Elliot said.
When she acquired the business, many women weren’t in the realm of owning a business.
“Thirty years ago, there weren’t a whole lot of women business owners,” Elliot said. “But mine has been very, very promising. It’s been very rewarding.”
Her daycare is licensed for 85 kids…ranging in age from small infants to school-aged children.
“It’s a job that I love to come to,” Elliot said. “I don’t know that there’s any other job that when you walk in the door in the morning, you’re greeted with smiles, high fives, hugs, ‘I love you’, ‘do you see my new dress?’, ‘my grandma did my hair’, ‘look at my fingernails, my grandma just painted them’, whatever it is. There’s no other job quite like it.”
She even helps prepare kids for the future beyond daycare…like kindergarten at nearby Blackshere Elementary.
“We do have a good relationship with those teachers and the administration, and they really enjoy getting our kids because when our students go there,” Elliot said. “They are well prepared for kindergarten.”
Of course, 30 years is a decent amount of time, especially in the daycare business. So, she’s even having some repeat customers.
“We have come to that cycle where a lot of kids that I had as students here, several of them now work for me. And I also have children of students that I’ve formerly had. So, that circle, I don’t want to date myself too much,” Elliot said, laughing. “But we do have that cycle coming around.”
For many of these kids though, she’s not the daycare owner: she’s known as Miss Mary Jo.
“I’ll see young adults, especially young men, and they’ll come up and say ‘hey Miss Mary Jo! How ya been? Do you remember me? Remember the time?’,” Elliot said. “But, as those young adults still calling me Miss Mary Jo, it’s a great feeling. It really is.”
Beyond her 80 daily visitors is a family of her own—4 kids, now most of the adults.
“And with those four children came lots of extra-curricular activities, whether it was something affiliated with the school, a sports activity, and we are very active parents,” Elliot said. “We don’t miss a thing.”
So, what kind of advice does a woman dedicated to her family and the kids of the area have? You can do it.
“I’ve had a lot of titles over the years. Remarkable has never been one of them. To say that I’m remarkable, I don’t think so. I deal with remarkable people every day. I think about all the littles that I deal with, they are absolutely remarkable.”