Beloved Caribou daycare provider retires after 45 years

3 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — After opening her home to hundreds of neighborhood children in Caribou for the past four decades, creating lifelong memories and friendships, beloved daycare provider Mary Pike is retiring. 

Pike was working at a Newberry’s store in Caribou before opening her daycare “Precious Treasures.” After marrying Dana Pike and having three children, she soon decided she wanted to stay at home with them.

“And the way to be home was to take in other people’s kids, so I could be home with mine and help them too,” she said.

Pike said the daycare has been open for so long that she couldn’t say what year she first started, but that it has been “at least 45 years,” since she began her business.

Recently, Pike checked back through all of her listings and said she’s had at least 351 kids over the years.

During that time, her home was transformed into a sanctuary for neighborhood youths, with toys throughout the house, a massive bench in the kitchen so everyone could eat together, shelves for tote bags and backpacks, containers full of paper, crayons, markers and toys, and about 3,000 children’s books. 

“When I have grown-ups over, we have to bring out a different table and chairs,” Pike said.

On an average day, Pike would watch the children for about 11 hours.

“I would start at whatever time they wanted me,” she said. “There were times where I’d open at 5 a.m. and not get done until 5 at night.”

And instead of feeling relief after retiring, Pike said she mostly just misses having a house filled with children.

“I hate leaving them, because I feel so lonesome when there’s nobody around after all these years of having little ones run around my house. I certainly love those little guys; they’ve been my family.”

And just like family, many of the children she watched over the years still keep in touch on a regular basis. 

“I had a young boy that joined the service and when he comes home he’ll come to visit me,” she said. “Some of them have their own children now, and they’ll invite me to their children’s birthday parties. So my kids come back, and I do feel like they’re my kids because I love them all.”

Online messages poured in after Pike announced earlier this month on Facebook that she would be getting done. 

“It was wonderful, and I know it’s time to give this up, but I just absolutely love the people I’ve had.”

When asking children what they remember most about her daycare, she said they’ll usually bring up lunch. She would place a stamp of Chef Combo, a puppet from the 1980s children’s show “Kids’ Break,” on their hands if they ate all their fruits and vegetables, and cleaned their plates. 

The kids would often proudly show this stamp to their mothers at the end of the day, Pike said.

Pike’s favorite memories of the daycare are of taking from 12 to 14 kids to Teague Park, sign them up at the recreation department for activities like swimming, baseball and tennis, and going on tours of the police and fire station.

In addition to caring for children, Pike was always willing to help out fellow daycare providers.

Theresa Dube, who has been running Theresa’s Daycare for 27 years, said Pike helped her out a great deal when she first started.

“She’s so kind,” Dube said, “you just immediately feel comfortable with her.”

She said Pike became mom, grandma, provider and friend to every child who walked through her door.

“Formative years are so important for children,” Dube said. “She made sure everyone knew they had to be honest, helpful and caring. It sounds cliche, but those are important things for children to learn.”

Dube said open communication with parents was among the most important lessons she learned from Pike.

“It makes everything good, there’s nothing festering. If there’s a problem, it gets taken care of immediately. Mary went way above and beyond though,” Dube said.

Pike also hosted monthly meetings at her house, with about a dozen daycare providers gathering in a small living room, and getting recertified in First Aid/CPR in addition to discussing their work with one another.

“It was so nice to be with people with the exact same job as you. We deal with the same problems, and she allowed us to have the space to talk, or vent if we needed to. We knew we were in a safe space with Mary. She always allowed us to have that,” Dube said.

For the first 14 years, Pike’s sister Deborah Somers helped run the daycare. Somers moved to Bangor 20 years ago and sold Pike her house to use as a new location.

Somers said Pike would always make special “tuna noodles” lunch for her daughter, something she never forgot.

“My daughter went through daycare with us, and she loves her Aunt Mary,” Somers said.

Life running the daycare was always busy but always fun, according to Somers.

“We let our kids play. Mary would do crafts with them. We wanted them to enjoy their lives and not to have school before school started. That was really important to us. We would always take them on little adventures when we could.”

Heidi Clark, who knows Pike through their church group and took her daughters to the daycare, said her children always had “so much fun” visiting Pike.

“There were many books, toys and crafts, but the most important were the life lessons such as telling the truth, being kind and the friendships that were formed. She even coordinated reunions for those who had ‘graduated” from daycare,”Clark said.

Clark said each child knew they were loved and important.

“One of the many things I remember from the viewpoint of a mom is Miss Mary took so many pictures of the children, printed them out and hung them near the doorway so it was one of the first things I saw when I picked the girls up. I saw the smiles and fun activities that took place during the day.”

And while Pike may be adjusting to a quieter home for the first time in nearly half a century, she now has a family of hundreds across the country who cherish their time together.

“I don’t know how to put it, but I know I’ve got to let it go,” Pike said. “But it’s hard to let my little ones go because they’re like my kids. Most of them were with me from the time they were little babies right until they were 12. They were a part of me, but I’m learning to let it go.”