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Wee Won Day Care takes over Small Pine Daycare

Wee Won Day Care ... Erin Fitzgerald is the owner, manager and sole full-time employee of the day care center. Shown with her are just six of her 12 charges.

by Del Bartels

Friday, September 2, was the last official day of the Small Pine Daycare, owned and operated by Philip Health Services, Inc.

Tuesday, September 6, was the first official day of the Wee Won Day Care. Erin Fitzgerald is the new owner of the business, building and land at 516 W. Pine Street, Philip. She is the manager and the sole full-time employee of the center. Hours will be 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Fitzgerald quit her position at a downtown business in Philip and is running the Wee Won Day Care because, "The main reason was to see my own kids more, to raise them and not pay someone else to raise them. I enjoy kids, big time! I wanted to have fun like a kid while I'm still able to, enjoy life and play with them."

Fitzgerald said the opportunity and everything fell at just the right time. Almost all of the kids who she will be caring for were attending Small Pines. She will have a maximum of 12 kids, though not every day. She is in the process of the business being registered with South Dakota as a day care center.

"Its all about age and ratios," said Fitzgerald about the numbers and ages of the kids at the center. "Everyday is different whether I'm going to have a helper or not." Amy Kroetch and Janet Schofield, both with experience from Small Pine, have volunteered to help if called upon. "There are lots of people asking if they could come in to rock babies twice a week or something, 'grandmas' we call them. I've had so much support from everybody, family, the hospital, friends," said Fitzgerald.

The new name reflects Fitzgerald's love for sports. "I wanted a sports theme. I'm big into playing games and getting out, banners and teaching them Red Sox history with the parents' consent of course," said Fitzgerald.

The history of the original operation began February 18, 1999, when, in an effort to solve staff shortages, PHSI announced that it was considering opening a day care center. Surveys were held. On July 15, the city council approved applying for a Community Development Block Grant to assist with the purchase of a day care structure - a Governors' house. Governor Bill Janklow had awarded the community a $21,700 CDBG. The city would administer the funds for the chamber of commerce economic development committee and PHSI. Of the 250 residents phoned, 64 percent fell below median income guidelines, thus qualified the community for the grant.

On September 16, 1999, the city accepted a gift of property from the Philip Chamber of Commerce. The chamber had received a $5,000 grant from Golden West Telecommunications. Adjoining property owned by the city would be used as a playground for the day care.

On September 30, 1999, it was agreed that the city would own the property and building. PHSI would operate the facility, which could accommodate 20 children. The building arrived October 28, 1999.

It was reported in February, 2000, that day care manager Cathy Fiedler hoped to be in full operation by early March. One full-time and one part-time employee had been hired. The facility was waiting for a state inspection before setting an official opening date.

Council members approved an agreement with PHSI, which turned the city's ownership of the facility over to PHSI after 10 years of management. Remaining funds of the block grant were transferred into the 2000 budget to finish preparing the day care for operation.

The Small Pine Day Care's first day of business was Wednesday, March 1, 2000. Fiedler's staff included one full-time and four part-time employees. Hours were originally 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The 10-year land lease agreement between PHSI and the city of Philip expired in March of 2010. PHSI then owned the land and the building.

A public notification of intent to solicit proposals to purchase the business was printed May 12 in the Pioneer Review. The Philip Health Services, Inc. board of directors passed the action to sell.

The letter sent June 24, 2011, to the parents of attending children stated, "Dear Small Pine Daycare Families, Philip Health Services is pleased to announce that Small Pine Daycare will transition to new ownership later this summer. Because this will be a time of change for everyone involved, our goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible for your children and families. Care will be taken to help your children say goodbye to these terrific caregivers and be introduced to the new providers. Respectfully, Kent Olson"

An open house was held Friday, September 2, 2011, on the last day as Small Pine Daycare as a "thank you" to the patrons, employees, volunteers and community.