Hobby Horse Preschool moving after 27 years

Julie Schimmelpfennig / Times Correspondent
After saying farewell to their former location, Hobby Horse director and teacher Val Bland got her books on the shelves over the weekend at their new location at Grace United Methodist Church.

For 45 years Hobby Horse Preschool has given young learners their early childhood education start. When they first opened the preschool, it was located in founder Nancy Wherry’s basement. Then they moved to the Herget Mansion. For the last 27 years they have been in the basement of Trinity Lutheran Church. The church leaders needed the space and would not renew Hobby Horse’s lease.

Director and teacher Val Bland said many churches offered to have her check out their facilities.

“It’s such a cool thing about Pekin,” she said. “So many churches stepped up to say ‘Hey, come look at us.’”

She said she had a good feeling when she looked at Grace United Methodist Church’s education building. She felt at home.

“It’s a homey place,” said Bland. “We’re a warm, homey environment as opposed to an institution feel. It makes us unique.”

Another change is that Wherry is no longer the owner. Hobby Horse was donated to Normandale Reformed Church in order to have a not-for-profit status. Hobby Horse Preschool rents the classroom space from Grace United Methodist Church.

While Bland said she will miss Trinity Lutheran Church and Pastor Simeon, she is looking forward to her new place. The new space will mean for the first time in decades Bland will have sinks in the classrooms, an in-room bathroom for students, ground-level windows, air conditioning and a fenced in playground with equipment. 

This is Bland’s 30th year with Hobby Horse Preschool. She now sees children of former students enrolling at Hobby Horse and gets a kick out of it. She said it is energizing to be in a new space and looks forward to it every day.

Bland said the preschool is going to establish a Board of Directors and hopes to eventually establish a scholarship fund to provide either a partial or full scholarship for families in need.

Enrollment is currently open. Bland said there are only a few spots left in the 4-year-old class and there are many spots open in the 3-year-old class. 

Hobby Horse Preschool is not a daycare but is a learning program. The 4-year-old class meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 11:30 a.m. The 3-year-old class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11:15 a.m. 

“We believe very strongly that children learn through play,” Bland said. “We are very hands-on here. We have whole group time, small group time, and one-on-one time each day. My class last year loved the open ended art supplies they could use to create things. Social skills are important, too. I had a mom donate books about being kind after the increase in suicide awareness.”

The staff will remain the same despite the relocation. Bland and Andria Rotherham will be the teachers with help from Cindy Rineberg and Teresa Runyun.

There will be an open house for the public or anyone wanting to enroll a child on Sunday, Aug. 12, from noon until 2 p.m. at 601 N. 4th St. For more information, contact Bland at 267-0822 or check the Hobby Horse Preschool Facebook page.