Clanton preschool director retires after 15 years
After loving and caring for preschool children in Chilton County for the past 15 years, Clanton First Baptist Weekday Education Director Mary Mell Smith has retired.
“The whole experience has been a wonderful joy,” Smith said. “I had some wonderful, wonderful teachers throughout the years, and God was the one who blessed this ministry. He sent people our way, and when we had a problem or if something came up, I went to my knees in prayer.”
Smith will be honored at a retirement celebration on Oct. 25 from 1:30 until 3:30 p.m. in the Christian Life Center at Clanton First Baptist Church.
Friends, family, former students and staff are invited to come celebrate with Smith.
When the preschool program started in 2000, Smith said she had 12 children.
“The idea for the preschool came about when myself and one other lady went to the board of deacons at the church and asked about starting a preschool,” Smith said. “I didn’t really intend to go to work, but I like to tell people that God played a trick on me and put me to work.”
Currently, the preschool program has 126 students enrolled, and Smith said it has been a blessing to see the program grow throughout the years.
“It makes you feel so good to be out in the community and run into one of your students and have them run up to you with a hug,” Smith said. “That is truly a wonderful feeling.”
Melinda White, who now serves as the director after Smith announced her retirement in May, worked with Smith for 12 years.
“Mary Mell was a wonderful example to all of us teachers,” White said. “She was like our mother. We would go to her for everything, and she always had wonderful advice.”
White said Smith was always clear that the mission of the preschool was to show Jesus to every child who came through the doors of the school.
“We were always very clear about what we were here to do and that is show the love of Jesus to these children,” White said. “Our job is to keep God in the center of this preschool, and Mary Mell’s passion never stopped. She always worked to make sure that was happening.”
White said Smith would often arrive at the preschool and the first order of business for the day was to go around and greet every child with a hug.
“She went around to every classroom and there was never a day where a child here did not get a hug from her,” White said. “The children just adored her.”
Smith said her decision to retire has not been easy, but she wanted to “go out on top.”
“My first group of students would be about 19 or 20 now,” Smith said. “I am definitely going to miss it for sure. They say you need at least eight hugs a day to stay healthy, and I definitely got my share. I think that is what I will miss the most. Coming in every morning and having the children run up to me with their sweet hugs.”