RUMFORD — If you say the words “Miss Maureen’s” to anyone in this community, there’s a great chance you’ll get a smile and maybe a good story.

It’s believed more than 3,000 children have been part of Maureen’s Preschool since 1974. The preschool has created friendships lasting into adulthood, with even an occasional marriage.

But come Friday, Aug. 28, the iconic program will come to an end.

These days, owner Maureen Mayo is a bundle of emotions, so she keeps a box of tissues close to her side.

“I want everyone to know that anyone who played any part in the success of this school, I appreciate so dearly,” she said. “I still think there isn’t a richer woman in the world than me. Go Donald Trump! You’re nothing compared to me!”

“All that I’ve been able to accomplish or achieve will keep coming back to me every time I bump into someone,” she said. “It’s not an ending. It’s a celebration. How many people get to do something for 40 years that they totally love?”

On Friday morning, while the preschoolers were in quiet time watching a movie, Miss Maureen, Miss Pam (Bulger), Miss Katie (Smith) and Miss Lacey (Gallant) gathered for a time of reflection.

The most notable aspect of this foursome is that Smith and Gallant were helping out at the very preschool they attended as students.

“I remember it was so reputable,” Smith said. “Everybody that went to preschool went to Maureen’s Preschool. It was the name, the people that were here, your teachers. It was just well known to be the best around.”

“There’s a couple people that have their kids here now that are my age that came here. And they come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, it still looks the same!'” she said.

Gallant most remembers the sandbox. Asked what impressed her about that, she said, “I think because it was inside. It was a social gathering place.”

Smith said, “You knew it was different than going to day care because you had your projects and there was certain things you always did. We had your snack in here and you had your drink. What was that drink? Tang?”

That brought a big laugh.

“And you (Mayo) had a basket,” Smith said. “And you’d come around with the basket and everyone had to use their manners. . . . I still have four Christmas ornaments that we made here, with our pictures in them. And my sister, too. My sister came here. So we have our Miss Maureen’s ornaments with the date on the back.”

Smith said, “All the friends I ever had were all here. People that I’m still friends with now all came here.”

Bulger, known as “the storyteller” among the group, gained that passion when she worked as a volunteer assistant for 10 years with Brenda Sassi, Mayo’s sister, when she was the librarian at Meroby Elementary.

“She would let me tell stories and it became my passion,” she said.

“I love story time with the kids,” Bulger said. “When I do a book, I always bring a character that the kids can relate to. Whatever I’m doing for a story, you can bet I have little characters in my bag, which helps hold their attention and keeps them focused.”

Bulger also noted, “Once you’re in preschool mode, it’s with you every day. My husband works at the hospital, so when he leaves for work in the morning, he says, ‘I know. I know. Make good choices.’ That’s the last thing I say to him every morning.”

The yearly celebration

And the yearly celebration event before family, where four groups of children sing two songs, then line up to the microphone to say something, is always unpredictable.

Smith, who handed the microphone to each child at this year’s celebration said, “I think the best part of the whole night was Mason Childs. He gets the microphone and I said, Mason, what do you want to tell everybody.

“And he said, ‘I love my daddy. I love my daddy!'”

Smith laughed. “He’s jumping up and down and he grabs Spencer (Cox) and kisses him right on the lips.”

Mayo, once a teacher, said she started the preschool after giving birth to three boys in 45 months. She realized she would not be able to return to teaching, “so I decided I would open a preschool when my oldest son, Corey, was 5, Scot was 4 and Matt was 3.”

It began just mornings from 8 to 11.

“Then Jean (McPhee Boucher) became my dear friend. She went to school with my sister, but she had a daughter the same age as Corey. So she started working with me,” Mayo said. She was with the preschool for 17 or 18 years.

Mayo said the longest time someone was with the preschool was 19 years. That someone was Tina Simoneau of Jay.

Mayo said they were licensed for 36 children. But when the big construction boom occurred in the paper mill in the early 1980s, many young families moved into town, so all these young children came to the preschool.

She said that for a number of years, there would be as many as 125 children in the program, but not all at the same time. “They would come on different days, or at different hours of the day.”

Philosophy for preschoolers

“I always feel that in everybody, there’s good. And I always used to say, if we find them doing something right, then it’s almost magical. Rather than say, ‘Why did you do that?'” Mayo said.

She told of a boy who came from a troubled family who was playing in the sandbox and he shared a toy. “I said, ‘Justin (not his real name), that was such a nice thing that you did. You just shared that!'”

“That was such a turning moment in his life and in mine because what happened to that little boy is that he couldn’t do enough. No one would ever compliment him on the good of him. He always got the dickens for who he was,” Mayo said.

She said her whole philosophy was built on her own childhood.

“I didn’t feel like I measured up to everyone else in school. I was saying, ‘Don’t call on me.’ I think I was on a quiet, shy side,” Mayo said, chuckling.

“I wanted these children to know that they were special and important . . . built on a lot of things that I wanted for myself,” she said.

“One thing we always try to do is you take responsibility for the choices that you make. And if you hurt someone’s feelings, you have to tell them you’re sorry,” May said.

“These two little boys got into a little sort of confrontation,” she said. “So one thing I always do with children when I want to talk with them is to get down to their level. I get down so I can look them in the eye. So I’m talking to the children and going on and on. Then when I’m done, I said, ‘you tell me what I just said.’ One of them said, ‘Miss Maureen, do you have a loose tooth?'”

“These parents trust us, whether they know it or not, with the most dearest thing that they have,” she said. “I’ve always said, if you believe in every person that there is a star, and that star will shine as brightly as they feel loved and appreciated. Let’s see how bright we can make these stars shine.”

Mayo said, “Really though, the rules of preschool are the rules of life . . . I always feel that if you can talk and communicate, you can solve any differences. And it starts even with the young children.”

Though the preschool is closing, Mayo takes comfort in knowing she likely will continue to meet former students when she attends sporting events, plays golf and goes shopping. As a result of the preschool, she joked that she now has students that range from ages 3 to 45.

There are plans for an online site with photos from the 40 years of Maureen’s Preschool.

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