‘MOM’ to THOUSANDS
Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
LAPLACE – Mother to thousands.
That would be a good way to describe one special mother, who will celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday.
Joan Ancker, owner and operator of Joan’s Day Care and Preschool in LaPlace for 41 years, has been just that—mother to thousands of children who will always remember a woman who has spent her life operating a daycare as a passion rather than for a profit.
Joan, now 70, has seldom missed a day of work at her day care center since it began on February 10, 1967. For that matter, the original Joan’s Day Care began like many such businesses, as a small operation in her home when a neighbor asked if she would watch her children as she went off to work.
“At first I told her I would watch them for free,” Joan said, still speaking with a hint of her Spanish accent from Honduras. “But she insisted to pay me so I let her.”
That attitude to try and help her friend would become the thing Joan built as her reputation for decades to come, a characteristic that has been founded in a prayer life that has guided her each step of the way.
“The biggest problem with children today is that their parents don’t have them involved enough with prayer, and they don’t eat together,” she said. “I’ve watched things change over the years, and we need kids and parents to pray together and eat at least one meal a day together.”
Joan has used her own prayers to always guide her day care, from the beginning, to where it is today, now as a very large operation which includes three buildings totaling almost 18,000 square feet. Even as Joan continued to see her business grow from its humble beginnings, she has made prayer for the children the center of what she does.
“Before I built the facility where we are now, I went to Israel and I prayed for the day care. But I didn’t pray for my business to do well, I prayed that I would do good for the kids,’ she said. “People tell me I’m special with the kids. Maybe that is why.”
Joan is a member of the Bahai faith after marrying a Bahai missionary to her homeland in Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras.
She begins every day of the school with a prayer she says herself, which is said for the children, asking for protection and blessing.
“I’ve always loved children,” she explained. “So when I thought about having a business here in the United States, I knew a day care would be just right for me.”
From the small start in her house, she suddenly began to have others bringing children as word spread about her kind nature with the kids. Within five years, she knew she had to open a larger facility, and she ended up building the facility herself on Carrollwood Road, long before the many homes would spring up in the subdivision that is there today.
“We’ve grown fast,” she agreed. “But I think it is because of the prayers, our attitude in operating our facility, and the way we treat the children.”
Today, the day care is full to capacity, licensed for 191 children, with 24 employees working there. It is the only private day care in St. John Parish, Joan said, and has many employees who have been there for 20 or 30 years.
“People keep working here because Joan treats us all like family,” Gerri Willis said. “When my husband had a stroke, Joan called me and just said to take as much time off as I needed. She treats us all like family, and it’s the same for all the children here.”
Santa Adams, who has worked there for 20 years, said Joan has a special interest in each child, something that shows in her work.
“She is determined to do well for all the kids,” she said. “She cares more about every child here and is so kind-hearted to these children.”
Many stories have been told about Joan helping families who got into financial difficulties, including one story of Joan allowing a family to bring their children there for five years since they had a crisis at home.
“I just try to help out people if they really need it,” Joan said.
Strong Family Background
Joan was born to a family in Honduras who lived on Roatan in the Bay Islands, a humble area where running water and electricity are only allowed at night.
Her father was a captain on a ship, and her mother stayed home to raise five girls and a boy, with Joan one of the middle children.
“I had a good family,” she said. “I was the favorite child for my father, and he taught me so many things. He said I was his puppy dog since I followed him everywhere.”
Even though both of her parents died many years ago, she has evergreens that her father planted in front of her current day care, which he put in the ground 36 years ago.
Joan said she always was a child who knew what she wanted, including marriage to a man who didn’t smoke or drink.
“I saw my father and grandfather drink, and it made me always want to marry someone who didn’t drink,” she said. “My father was a good man, but drinking brings many problems to families and I wasn’t going to have it in mine.”
Sure enough, a man named Robert Ancker came to the islands as a missionary, and Joan ended up marrying him when she was 21.
“I got one out of two,” she said with a quiet laugh. “He didn’t drink and never has, but he did smoke.”
That was her ticket to the United States, as Robert eventually returned. He went to New York upon going back to the states since he was sick, and Joan came to the United States via Louisiana, since her sister lived in Belle Chasse. She was quickly reunited with her husband, and they moved to LaPlace in 1965.
Joan has obviously seen a lot in terms of parenting over the many years, including an unfortunately growing trend in recent years of grandparents becoming the primary caretakers, due to couples breaking up.
She believes strongly in the importance of families getting together for a meal each day, and praying together, although she also believes a family can be successful, even when a mother and father both work.
“We have had some situations of parents leaving their children here from 6 to 6, and that’s obviously too long,” she noted. “But even if both the mother and father have to work, it can still be a good home for the kids if parents will make the time for the children when they come home.”
Joan said she has seen the behavior of children worsen over the years, and directly ties the timing of that to something quite well known.
“I noticed that exactly when cable TV began, the behavior of children started getting worse,” she added. “And it has continued.”
At her day care, unlike most others, she only uses TV for educational means.
“We’ve had plenty of parents come here and look around to find no TVs,” she said. “They always ask us why we don’t have TV to turn on for the kids.”
Joan said she actually sees a place that her day care has helped families.
“We allow the kids to eat together with their siblings, which is one good thing for them, and we offer discipline, love and attention to many children who really need it,” she said. “Too many parents want to blame someone else for problems with their children. From what I see, parents just need to spend more time with their kids, but unfortunately some parents don’t want to be bothered.”
As for herself, Joan and Robert had two children, a son who became a doctor, and a daughter who became an architect. Now Joan has three grandchildren along with her two children.
That is, unless you count the thousands of other kids she has.