The Hobe Sound Early Learning Center provides families, regardless of income, an affordable early-education program incorporating nurturing, education and recreation to stimulate their children’s healthy emotional and social development and help them to excel in school and life.
Started by Gertrude Pettway in 1962 as the Humpty Dumpty Kindergarten, the center first cared for a dozen toddlers, providing quality childcare for families of limited means. When Mrs. Pettway joined the Martin County School District, eventually becoming Hobe Sound Elementary’s first kindergarten teacher, local families from Jupiter Island got involved to support the center.
Upon learning of the center’s struggles settling into a permanent location, Joseph Reed, who founded the island, donated the land on which the center is now located. In addition, Mr. Reed and Edna McConnell Clark led the Hobe Sound Community Chest—which has generously supported us for years, including on our latest expansion—in helping financially strengthen the center.
In June 1984, fire destroyed the thankfully empty center.
“By the time I arrived there was only a very small amount of the building left,” then director Sharon Walker told the Island News.
The cause was later identified as an electrical short in the ceiling of the washroom.
Every corner of the community rallied to support the center’s revival.
“Parents and residents contributed toys, books and games to replace what had been lost. Local Boy Scouts recently held car washes to raise money to buy new toys,” reported an August, 1984 article in the Herald.
Insurance settlement funds and support from the Community Chest enabled the center to rebuild and reopen April 1, 1985 with space to serve 100 children. In January 1992, thanks to assistance from Permelia Reed, Joseph Reed’s wife, the center added capacity for up to 150 children.
“It really was quite an effort by local people and those of use who live on the island who have tremendous regard for the child care center,” island resident Peggy Cole told a Herald reporter at the time.
That same year, First Lady Barbara Bush paid the center a surprise visit. Her stopover to tour the facility, meet the staff and spend time with the children, even reading them Three Billy Goats Gruff, was widely covered in the news.
Whether making big headlines or making children smile as they enjoy singing, playtime, snacks and lessons, the Hobe Sound Early Learning Center’s story reflects the best of this generous, caring town as it continues shaping generations of community members.