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Derby Mayor Randy White is very proud to announce that Mary Jo Foster is the recipient of the 2024 Mayor’s Award of Excellence. The award was established in 2002 as a way to honor an individual, family, organization, or business that has contributed significantly to the Derby community. Foster’s award will be presented at the Dec. 12 City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Derby City Hall, 611 Mulberry Rd. All of her daycare families and friends are invited to attend.
“It is my honor to recognize Mary Jo and her dedication to Derby’s young children for 35 years,” said Mayor Randy White. “I have heard countless stories about her that amaze me and appreciate her love for children and our community.”
For 45 years, Foster cared for children at her in-home daycare called Mary’s Little Lambs Daycare and Preschool until her retirement in May 2023. She started her daycare in Liberal, Kansas, working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and sometimes later in the evening and charged $1 per hour for daycare.
In 1988 her daycare moved to Derby when her husband, Dean, continued his career at Beech. They built a home across the street from the newly opened Derby Hills Elementary School, where they reside today. Dean will join Mary Jo in retirement in 2024 after 48 years of service at Beech.
“I 100% feel like God placed us in Derby to take care of children here,” said Foster.
Foster maintains relationships with her daycare kids she still calls her Little Lambs and attends many school activities to support them.
“I remember every one of my children because there was something special or unique about each one of them,” said Foster. “Dean, or Papa Dean as the kids call him, had a special relationship as well. When he would get home from work they would run and greet him with hugs.”
Dean and Mary Jo have three children of her own, Makayla Poepperling, Marcus and Casey and five grandchildren who range from 5th grade to college age.
Over the years, Foster has enjoyed the Derby Public Library’s story time and trick or treating events, visits to the bowling alley, movie theater and Rock River Rapids, visits from Derby Fire & Rescue, visiting Derby’s parks and more.
“I cared for close to 300 children over my career,” said Foster. “Kids need to know they are loved. I wanted to be the person to make a child feel good about who they are every day.”
Foster viewed working with children and their parents as an honor and strived to make happy memories with each child. As a parent herself, Foster knew the feeling of leaving kids behind and made sure they knew she would take care of them.
“The years that my twins spent in Mary Jo’s care were such a blessing to not only them, but my entire family,” said Darcie Parkhurst, past daycare parent. “Her passion, commitment and love for all the kids that have crossed the threshold into her home is apparent in all that she does. She stays in touch with them and celebrates their achievements even years after they have left. I will be forever grateful to her for always going above and beyond to create a magical daycare experience for my children.”
Mary Jo has touched the lives of many different people, including several City employees.
“I was truly blessed to spend so many years learning from Mary Jo as one of her little lambs, “said Derek Dunn, former Little Lamb and Captain with the Derby Police Department. “I have the privilege of seeing Mary Jo in the community and her excitement when she says hello is the same as when my parents would drop me off more than thirty years ago. Mary Jo has positively impacted countless lives and has truly been a blessing to this community, as well as multiple generations of families! I can think of no person more deserving of this honor.”
Outside of daycare Mary Jo and Dean are involved in their church, teaching children’s bible classes since 1972. Foster remains active in the community in retirement and plans to start helping with Panther Watch at Derby High School where she will surely see some of her Little Lambs and give them a smile and hug as they start their day.