Laurie Wernli set to retire from Perry Child Development Center

Allison Ullmann - Editor
Director Laurie Wernli looks on while a group of Perry Child Development Center kids make sound effects to go with a book being read in the preschool room. Wernli will retire from her position on Aug. 2. PHOTO BY ALLISON ULLMANN/THE PERRY CHIEF

Laurie Wernli has seen a lot of children come through the doors over her 40 years at the Perry Child Development Center. Some of those children and their families are even more familiar to Wernli.

“It’s been very rewarding to work with all the families and see all the second generations come back,” Wernli said. “To watch those children grow up, become adults, have their own children and know that their memories of us are nice ones that they want to bring their own children here.”

Wernli graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in child development from Iowa State University. She decided to take a job as a teacher at the Perry Child Development Center (PCDC) as her husband had a business in Perry and she grew up in the town.

“I’ve always liked working with kids, watching them develop and grow over time and learn,” Wernli said of why she went into the profession.

It wasn’t long before she took over the reins as the PCDC director. She has served as the director for the past 38 years.

Over the years, Wernli has seen a number of changes both with the facility itself and the center’s growth.

The center originated in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in 1971. It then moved to the annex of the First United Methodist Church, which Wernli said has since been torn down. She added that the center was acquired by the Dallas County Hospital around 1986 and served as a hospital department until 2004.

PCDC moved into its current building, at 920 18th St., around 1991. The hospital helped the center remodel the space, which was originally a church.

Wernli has also seen a number of changes with the amount of children served by the center. When it first started, she said they had around 10 children. The center now serves around 100 children, from ages 2-12.

The PCDC has a before and after school program. The center also cooperates with the Perry Community School District to offer a universal preschool program. The school provides the teacher, while the center provides the teacher’s associate. Up to 20 children can be served in the morning session and 20 in the afternoon session.

Wernli added that they are also able to take up to 16 at-risk three and four year olds at no cost to families who quality. The free program, Shared Visions, is offered through an Iowa Department of Education grant.

One of Wernli’s goals as director is to continue to make the center affordable for families. PCDC works in cooperation with United Way, Dallas County Hospital, Bock Family Foundation and others to offer a scholarship program.

Wernli’s other main initiative has been making sure the center meets high quality standards. PCDC recently received a five year accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The process to receive the accreditation is fairly lengthy and Wernli said it took around a year to prepare. The center also recently received a five star rating from the Department of Human Services Quality Rating System.

“It was a good time to say ‘OK, we’re at the quality level that I want, and it’s time to let someone else take over,”” Wernli said of her decision to retire as of Aug. 2.

An open house retirement reception will be held for Wernli from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, July 27 in the Clarion Room at the Perry City Hall Building, 1102 Willis Ave.

Wernli is looking forward to being able to travel more with her husband. She is also looking forward to being able to spend more time with their children and their families as their son lives in California and their daughter is in Minneapolis.

While she is looking forward to the freedom of retirement, Wernli said she will miss seeing the children and the people she works with every day. Many of the lead teachers at the center have worked there for around 25 years.

“I’ll miss my staff, when you work with people for as long we have, over 25 years, you know them, you know their families, I’ll definitely miss seeing them everyday. The kids and the families and the parents,” Wernli said.

Though she is confident in Kim Bonjour-Eiteman’s ability to take over the director position.

“It’ll take a little time, but she’ll take them to the next level,” Wernli said.

Bonjour-Eiteman had taught at the center for 25 years. She started as floater before moving up to the two and three year old associate position and then the two year old room lead teacher.

She has enjoyed working with Wernli over the years and appreciated her guidance and leadership with the other teachers. Though Bonjour-Eiteman knows she has “big shoes to fill” in taking over the director position from Wernli.

“I just really want to keep us moving in the future and stay as successful as Laurie’s helped us in the past,” Bonjour-Eiteman said. “I just want to keep that going, keep the quality up and provide the good service that we have all these years.”