Opinion: The hidden history of Tahoe Community Nursery School

Carole Gerhardy Keim
Special to the Sun

In honor of the upcoming 2016 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Tahoe Community Nursery School, the current members of the Squaw Valley Chapel-United Church of Christ, have a special reason for joining in praise and gratitude for the school’s contribution to the lives and children and their families in the North Tahoe-Truckee region.

In 2014, when my granddaughter’s life was being enhanced by her participation in the school now led by Angela Bruno, I was researching and writing the history of the church founded for the 1960 Olympics.

Following the close of the Games, the Chapel became a new church to serve the needs and hopes of the wider North Tahoe-Truckee communities. To my surprise, I learned that the nursery school had started at the church as intended by its Constitution and Bylaws. A few of the church’s members who started it are still members of the church!

By 1961, the congregation had created and voted a Constitution and Bylaws among whose articles was a Board of Education. One of the Board’s purposes was responsibility for “a nursery school, if such a program should be established.”

That responsibility was quickly initiated and named: “The Tahoe Community Nursery School,” located at the church during the week. By 1963, it became a California State licensed community nursery school.

Among those church members were Diane and Jim Morrison, the first couple married at the church, and Pat and Bob Sutton. According to Diane, Pat was one of the leaders who “spear-headed” the school’s creation, and Diane served on the school’s first Board of Directors. She, Jim and Bob are still members of the church. From them comes a bit more of the school’s history.

Diane remembers that also on the Board were Eddy Ancinas, Carol Onorota, Jean Sproehnle and Carolee Wolter (and there may have been others).

There was an indoor play area in the Chapel’s Lodge Room, where there was a round, red fireplace encircled by comfy chairs for conversation, some outdoor time in the dirt yard, a large front entry deck for play and lots of toys stored in innovative containers called clamshells. Oswald Ancinas built a big wooden playhouse that thrilled the children.

Jim remembers picking up their sons on days when Diane was at work, and he found this article about the school online: “TCNS is based on the philosophy that fun is essential to our learning, well being, and general outlook on life. The school operates on the premise that children need to be with other children to build self-esteem, self- awareness, and an appreciation of the place in which they live. We believe children learn about love, sharing, friendship, and life through play, exciting experiences, interaction with each other, warm support from our teachers and a cheerful, stimulating environment.”

The school aims were then stated in the article, and ended with the news that “Claudia Jones became Director.” She is widely known in the community as a loving, amazing, dedicated, long-serving, still-supportive woman. She was followed by Angela Bruno, who manifests the same kind of love, care and leadership.

From a recent conversation with Claudia, Diane learned that Claudia started at the school at the Squaw Valley church around 1963 when Margaret Carpenter (now Arnett) told her that the school needed a teacher; and, that she and Susie Thompson ran the school.

She said that Margaret was responsible for moving the school to its present location at Christ the King Lutheran Church on Dollar Hill in 1966 when the Squaw Valley church had to close due to inadequate funds to continue its ministry. The playhouse built by Asvaldo Encinas was moved to the new location as well. I saw it full of children in 2012!

Out of that same group of members and parents came another related service to and with the community: the idea for the annual Tahoe Ski Swap. Don Wolter, a preschool parent, proposed it. He said it was a very good way to raise money for the school.

Diane said “the Board jumped on it, she was the cashier for the first Swap, and it was a huge success. The ski community was delighted. It was a win-win for everyone.” Jim remembers that the Ski Swap was held at Tahoe Elementary School rather than at the church.

With joy, the Squaw United Church, now known as Squaw Valley Chapel-United Church of Christ, reopened in 1994 and is currently led by Rev. Art Domingue. With others so well served by the Tahoe Community Nursery School these many years, we current members are ready to join in the celebration of its ongoing life on behalf of so many children and families.

Carole Gerhardy Keim is a member of the Squaw Valley Chapel, and a retired Pastor and Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ. Visit to learn more.

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