As Sue gets ready for another great school year starting September 6, we joyfully pause to honor her and celebrate an important milestone – 25 years as Director of Westminster Preschool!
Sue graduated from Illinois State University with a teaching degree, but many friends and teachers thought she should go into business because of her skills in that area. Little did she know that she would eventually combine those two skill sets – teaching and business – at a job she loves.
In 1997, it was a close friend of Sue’s who saw a letter from First Pres seeking a new Director for the pre-school. She put it in Sue’s mailbox with a note: “You should do this.” At the time, Sue was working part time as the Christian Education Director at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Glen Ellyn. Her two boys, Scott and Brian, were older and she was ready to take on this full-time role.
Before working in education, Sue worked business and management jobs including as a buyer for Lord and Taylor at Water Tower Place and as a nighttime pharmacy technician for Central DuPage Hospital so she could be home with her kids. It was a pastor at Southminster church who recognized her leadership abilities and asked her to direct their Children’s Education programs.
Sue now leads a staff of 19, with 250 students enrolled for Fall 2022, in 15 different class sections. After 25 years, Westminster Preschool continues to have a stellar reputation in the community and is an important portal though which families become engaged with First Pres.
“Parents send their kids to First Pres because they trust us,” says Sue. “They trust us to stay committed to a tradition of education. They trust us to provide an excellent, safe, and secure experience, you see it with VBS, with Spark and the attendance of all of our children’s programs. We are known for our programming.” Parents are drawn to Westminster with special additions like the music and Christmas programs and the monthly “Kid’s Church,” which often serves as a bridge to bring a family back to worship at First Pres.
Sue credits the dedication of the Westminster staff for the school’s ongoing success. Even during the pandemic, some teachers had to be home with kids and others could be present, “but everyone said, ‘we are going to do this’,” said Sue. “So when the state opened up, the staff showed real determination to provide a safe school.” They adapted processes, like pick-up and drop-off from the cars rather than parents coming into the building (fewer tears was a happy outcome) and found innovative ways to continue providing in-person learning. “It was a real feeling of accomplishment for all of us.”
She also gives incredible praise to the church staff and leadership of First Pres for how they support her and one another. Her colleagues say that Sue is incredibly organized, dedicated, and focused on delivering a great school experience, down to the smallest detail, which inspires confidence in parents.
“Sue always wants to make sure everyone is welcome and comfortable at Westminster,” said Vyonne Scheiwe, who worked closely with Sue for 10 years as Assistant Director for Westminster. “We wait about 10-15 minutes after start time to make sure we have everyone who is coming. The moms that show up late are always apologetic. Sue always tells them, ‘There is no late at preschool. We are glad you are here.’ This would always calm the frantic parent who had a challenging time getting to preschool.”
“One of the (many) gifts I see in Sue – she is the ultimate ‘connector!’ She sees people – like really sees people and understands who they are – and connects them with others and helps create community and foster deeper relationships,” said Suzi Benes, First Pres Business Administrator. “She does this in her preschool environment with parents, teachers and fellow preschool directors; as part of staff with her fellow staff; as a church member; and in her volunteer roles (which are many). You can see the joy it brings her to meet and help others find their ‘tribe’ and grow deeper in their relationships, and especially in their faith connections. Sue’s energy to serve and to do it with excellence is infectious – and she can have a good laugh at herself too. Grateful to have worked with her for 17 of her 25 years. Looking forward to many more!”
Sue says that going forward, she and her team will continue to evolve, stay current, and seek to maintain their reputation, while building new collaborations in the community.
Sue and Dion have been married 39 years and are happy their boys are now grown and thriving. After attending Southminster Presbyterian for many years, Sue and Dion joined First Pres about six years ago.
“Many young families have a good experience at the preschool, and through trust and a positive experience, they seek a church and community at First Pres that will support them in life, and in their kids’ education,” said Sue. “But it’s true at any age. Our kids were grown, and we wanted to find a church for US. To find a small group to help in our own growth, marriage, and spiritual journey. So, you can be at this church forever, at every stage of life. That’s incredible.”
“Sue Clary is such an outstanding member of the First Pres Ministry Team,” said Pastor Chris Griggs. “She brings great energy, work ethic, love, care, and concern to her work not only with the Westminster Preschool but also to her attitude of servant ministry in multiple areas of the church. This congregation is so blessed to have a Preschool Director who understands her calling to be about much more than just running a preschool, but a calling to work to build the Kingdom of God as a part of a congregation.”
Congratulations, Sue, for 25 years of leadership and service. We wish you continued success and joy!
After all she has witnessed in her years of experience, what advice would Sue Clary give parents of young kids today? A few Sue truths:
- Your child can do more than you think.
- Life experiences are just as important as classroom experiences. Take them to the grocery store even if it is easier to go without them. When you are driving, skip the electronics and count cars on a passing train. Play “I Spy” with letters on signs on the way to school.
- Your kids will pick up on your confidence – or anxiety – in any given situation. If you as a parent are confident and trust what is happening, your kids will do the same.
- Kids need to know it’s okay to make a mistake.