ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
When driving south on Coble Street in Marion, it is hard to miss seeing the 12 little red tricycles lined in a row along the driveway.
To many adults, students and toddlers, the bicycles signal: “This is Mary Ann’s house.”
Mary Ann Wiens, a Marion pre-school teacher of many years, has decided to retire after touching the lives of more than 1,000 Marion children.
“My body just told me it was time,” she said.
Wiens said she taught Sunday school classes for a number of years before she started child care in 1956, which eventually grew into a pre-school.
“It all kind of evolved,” she said. “I started teaching Sunday school, then decided to do some child care to earn a little extra money, and it grew from there.”
Debbi Darrow, director of Early Childhood Intervention services, has worked with Wiens for a number of years and said she would miss her mornings at Mary Ann’s.
“It is wonderful being here,” she said. “Mary Ann is so good with the children, and especially children with special needs.”
Wiens began serving special needs children before it was a part of the educational program, Darrow said.
“One family really wanted their child to be in Mary Ann’s classes and was willing to carry their child into the classroom,” Darrow said. “But when they arrived in the fall, Mary Ann and her husband, Harold, had built a ramp, just for them. That’s the way they have always been.”
As special education and special needs became more prominent issues in the school district, Wiens worked hard to accommodate the students and their needs.
“At the beginning of the enrollment season, she would call the Special Education Coop first, to see what students we had for her,” Darrow said. “Then she centered her care and programs around those special needs.”
Wiens said on the first day of class she explained the disabilities to the class and never had any difficulties with students afterwards.
“They all wanted to help so much,” she said. “I had to watch they didn’t help too much.”
At the same time, she was observant of her students and would often encourage parents to have their children screened when she had a concern about a potential problem.
Wiens describes herself as being strict. And it was apparent her students listened carefully and followed her instructions.
Each student had their own square piece of carpet on which they sat for story time, singing or listening time.
Asked about how she disciplined her students, Wiens paused and then said: “We have a time-out chair, but it was never used very much. Sometimes I would go over and whisper they needed to listen or be more quiet or they might have to be moved. I always tried to do it in such a way that it wasn’t embarrassing to the children. I think that is so important.”
The soft-spoken teacher said the most important thing she wanted the children to learn was how special each and every person is and to always do the very best they can do.
“Each day I had a Happy Helper of the Day,” Wiens said. “At the end of class, each student had to tell the helper something they liked about them.
“We have such a negative world, we want the children to find the best in everything.”
Just last year a friend of Wiens’s was sitting in the doctor’s office when a young mother and pre-school-aged child came into the waiting room, she said.
The child approached Wiens’s friend and complimented her on her choice of shoes.
Soon a man came into the room, and the child went over, looked at him and then complimented him on his necktie.
“I found out later that child was one of my students,” Wiens said. “They were looking for something good in others outside of our circle.
“I am glad to see that value instilled in them to find that good on others.”
Wiens had polio when she was 14 years old and missed an entire year of school. She was told she would most probably be in a wheelchair by the time she was 50.
But according to some members of her family, no one could ever tell she had anything wrong, except for an occasional limp. They said she never complains.
Word of the last graduation for Wiens Pre-School reached Larry Hatteberg of KAKE-TV, who spent time in Marion with Wiens recently during classtime and at the graduation.
His program, “Hatteberg’s People” featuring Wiens, was aired Sunday night, May 20.
Wiens said now that graduation is over, and it is time to put things away, she is doing a lot of reminiscing.
“It is still all kind of sinking in,” she said. “But it is tough.”
“It has been very rewarding,” she said, “especially to watch the children grow and to see them become adults.
“Some of the friendships started in pre-school continued on through their high school years.”
She is also appreciative of the support her family has given her through the years.
“I couldn’t have done it all without their support and my neighbors,” she said. “They have been so good to put up with so many children through the years.”