A short story about Tenney Park and the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, told by Thomas Schmidt, Jean Huxmann, Steve Huxmann, and Nancy Daly.
[START OF RECORDING]
Interviewer: This is Carol Griskavich. It’s May 19th 2019. We’re at the Tenney Park Century Celebration and we’re joined by –
Narrator 1: Jean Huxmann
Narrator 2: Steve Huxmann
Narrator 3: Nancy Daly, D-A-L-Y.
Narrator 4: Tom Schmidt.
Interviewer: All right. I understand you all would all like to talk about the uh, the evolution of the Tenney Nursery and Parent Center. Fantastic, take it away.
Narrator 3: Well Lapham school was closing after the spring of 1979 and I remember that it was during that year that all the sort of talk and discussion and trying to keep the school open and several people approached me and said, “Well if we can’t have a Elementary school, let’s have a Nursery school.”
And I was teaching out of the city at that point, in London, Wisconsin actually, and people said you know, “Let’s have a nursery school.” And before we knew it there was a small group of us including Jean who were meeting quite regularly to talk about, how would we do this, what would it look like, could we really do it. So we just kept meeting and it just kind of slid right into place. [There were] lots of hiccups – lots of, lots of good wishes, lots of um, you know I remember signing the lease for the space for the first year before we had children enrolled before we knew if we’d have any money to pay the lease.
And then I think it was maybe a week or two before I had a call from – somebody, and I can’t remember who at the moment – but who called and said “Well you know there’s this funding that you could apply for which will pay for programs to go into the Lapham school building so that it stays a vibrant, active building. Would you like to be included?” And I said, “Well, sure.” And next thing we know our money – our lease was paid for the first year. I was like “Okay, that was really nice.” I mean –
[LAUGHTER FROM ALL]
So we just had a lot of—a lot of good things happen. You know, from the beginning.
Interviewer: And is that where it was located—
Narrator 3: Yes.
Interviewer – in the Lapham school?
Narrator 3: We started out in room 112 in the Lapham school building. And that was our first class. First class room. We had um, I can’t remember how many—
Narrator 1: It was the kindergarten room.
Narrator 3: Yes.
Narrator 1: Yeah.
Narrator 3: Yup, room 112 and 110 were the first former kindergarten rooms, we started out with room 112. We had that for the first several years. And actually Steve is here and Tom is here because they were, one person—one other person, Phil Hodak [sp?], was also part of the team. Who helped to build sort of a, a play structure in the classroom.
So it was really a neighborhood team effort by a lot of people who were, you know, helping to get this going.
I remember a bake sale early on, I remember you know a lot of kind of spreading the word, getting out there for starting this school. And we did it. And you know we had a full class and we had... I taught – Jean came in and subbed once in a while to help out. It was started as a parent cooperative nursery school. So there were parents [who] helped in the classroom on a rotating basis. So every parent, I can’t say exactly at that time but it might have been five or six times, during the school year seven times, that they would come in and help out. And bring a snack for the kids. And just participate. You know, I was kind of an assistant teacher. So they were there and the model has continued and kind of fluctuated and you know, in different ways. But the school continues to this day.
So we had room 112 for the first three years just – and just a morning class to start with. The second year we were opened, we opened in the fall then of 1979. And the following year – actually that spring of 1980 we hired another teacher Carrie Struey [sp?], with whom I’m still good friends and [I] see her from time to time. She no longer lives in Madison. So I still see her, and we started an afternoon class. So we really were there all day every day. We also started the—classes ran Monday through Thursday and we had a Friday morning play group time for children, zero to three year olds.
So not only did it fill a need in the neighborhood of just getting people together, but it also kind of fed into our incoming classes every year because parents would come with their youngest children – two year olds, one year olds. You know, the real little ones.
They would come, and it was just a natural progression of they would sign up for nursery school once their kids turned three. So like: “well of course that’s where they’re going. And we already know all of these people and we know the teachers, we know the space, and it feels comfortable.” So that’s where we were.
It was also exciting to be a part of the whole Lapham building because you know Tom’s wife Lynne [sp?] was working on another project in the building at the time. But the whole building was filled with a variety of non-profit programs. So it was just fun to be a part of, you know—people were disappointed that school closed but it remained opened as a vibrant piece of the community. And different programs, serving the community and it was just fun to be a part of that energy and enthusiasm. So.
Interviewer: Did children come to it from outside of the neighborhood at all? Did it build such a reputation that it attracted—
Narrator 3: Um
Interviewer: --all over the east side or?
Narrator 3: I think, I think—
Interviewer: There was just plenty of kids—
Narrator 3: There were a lot of kids, well there were a lot from the Tenney Park neighborhood but there were, I remember several children who lived closer to east high school and then there were children who lived in the Marquette neighborhood, so I can’t say we had any west side kids at that point but, but certainly you know, and kids further north. Um, Sherman Avenue, Maple Bluff.
So it – it really expanded and so for the first three years I believe we had room 112 and then we were able to expand into room 110 which had joined it. There was a small little office, storage unit, in between. And we were able to expand to that room.
And Tom and everybody came back again, built another structure. We had a little riding ring and a tower and a big sort of pillow pit and playhouse area so a variety of things built that and that was the space for our infant toddler program. Actually not infants, but for our toddler program. So we a two year old class for the first time and all the toddler time program and parent-child program happened in that room as well. So I believe again we started out as just mornings there and then the next year we added an afternoon class of three year olds.
Narrator 1: You should talk about the chairs. The chairs that were built.
Narrator 3: Okay. One of the themes of the school was we had very very little money to start with.
[LAUGHTER FROM MALE NARRATOR]
Narrator 3: Very little money so we were, we were looking for anything we could and I remember going to um, St. Vinny’s one day and finding this fabulous shelf unit that probably is still at the school now. I think it was a dollar that I paid for it. But you know, sand it down, a coat of paint, and you know – bingo. We had a really nice shelf unit. We built a lot of furniture. I had worked previously at the teacher’s workshop I had built a lot of furniture out of cardboard tubes from [a] packaging company on the far east side of Madison. I don’t think it’s still there but it was at the time. So we built a lot of furniture out of that. We were able to build a lot of shelf units, and Jean was referring to the chairs at the school. And we made all of the chairs out of these recycled—
Narrator 1: Cardboard tubes.
Narrator 3: Cardboard tubes.
Narrator 3: And they’re sort of like, you know giant toilet paper tubes.
[LAUGHTER FROM MALE NARRATOR]
Narrator 3: Only really, really sturdy. And um,
[LAUGHTER FROM MALE NARRATOR]
Narrator 3: And then, so we, we cut out a section of those so it still had a seat appropriate for you know, three and five year olds’ height. And then a back on the chair. We had a little handle, a little opening so that you could easily carry four chairs at a time. And then we’d lace cording around like a little spider web on the inside. And make, make cushions for those. And you know, a couple times a year one of the parents would take home all the cushions and wash them so they-
[LAUGHTER FROM FEMALE NARRATOR]
Narrator 3: --there would be clean cushions again.
[LAUGHTER FROM MALE NARRATOR]
Narrator 3: You know I mean they’re really, they were good. I ended up making some at my house for my own kids. When they were little—
Narrator 3: --they had, they had some cushions. So a lot of things in the school, we built a lot of equipment out of—
Narrator 1: Recycled materials.
Narrator 3: Yup.
Narrator 1: The teachers would shop and collect [PAUSE] things from all over.
Narrator 3: Yeah.
Narrator 2: [unintelligible]
Narrator 3: That was my job before Tenney Nursery so I was in touch with a lot of businesses around the city and and just—
Narrator 4: And then when the school re-opened and Nancy opened another facility in the neighborhood.
Interviewer: Oh when was that?
Narrator 3: Well when, we were at Tenney Nursery up until, well excuse me ten years in the Lapham school building. And then it became apparent that—Let’s see it was the fall of 1993 I believe?
Narrator 1: It was ten.
Narrator 3: Well no
Narrator 1: I think it was closed for ten years—
Narrator 3: You’re right. Thank you, they did op—Thank you for correcting me. They, Lapham did re-open, we were in the building with them for a number of years. And that was fine until their space needs really outgrew. So yes. We were kind of joint partners in the building for a number of years. And that was, you know that had its ups and downs. But mostly it was a really positive experience. And um, and our kids – I remember Tenney parents. They were used to participating in the classroom, they were used to getting their newsletter every month. They were used to all of these things and a lot of them kind of took all of those expectations and just well here’s what I do, and kind of took that right into Lapham. And you know were right there to help on field trips and help with different things. And then a number of years later it was the fall of 1993, prior—the year prior to that we knew we were not going to be in that building any more. So Tenney Nursery actually ventured out and purchased the Vogol [sp?] building on East Mifflin. On the 1200 block of East Mifflin. So they purchased that building and opened up a third classroom and that’s where our program is located still today.
Interviewer: Fantastic. And do you know how many students it serves today?
Narrator 3: Right now today I’m not sure. When I was still there, I was there through the transition and then a number of years in the new building. When I left the new building, the year I left there were three classrooms all of which were full morning and afternoon. I don’t think it’s quite to that level at this point. But at that point I know they had morning and afternoon classes. And parent-child toddler time. And we also, landlords renting out the extra space in the building that was needed for, for children.
Interviewer: Well, does anyone else have anything they want to add to that? This is incredible.
Narrator 3: Well, Jean was talking before about one of her memories when we were still in the Lapham building. Those very first years. I, well we would have been in those first three years because I remember, one of the children whose father helped to do this who was in that very first class. And we used to run Santa’s workshops for parents, in the fall. And just you know carrying on that idea of recycling and making things for kids out of nothing and we didn’t need to spend tremendous amounts of money. And so we would, you know, parents were building doll houses and making all kinds of things. And I was talking before about what little money we had to start with and we did get the grant which Tom and Phil and Steve built the play structure for us, from that grant, and I remember somewhere we got a grant for – I think it was maybe 1800 dollars. I mean it was really a small amount of money to furnish a classroom. Which is part of the reason we thought, well. If we don’t spend any money on furniture we’re a step ahead right there. So we really were trying to get as much as we possibly could, spending almost next to nothing. And as little as we possibly could. So.
But it’s also been, I think it’s really been a neighborhood kind of landmark, I think, for a lot of families. And a lot of families that I know still to this day made many of their long lasting friendships here when their children were, were pre-schoolers. And um, many of those families I still see today. So.
Interviewer: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for adding to this story. That’s an incredible community touchstone, it sounds like, so. Thank you very much.
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