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In a Class of Her Own

By Marky Gray

Mary UminskiHaving first started her career at Conner Prairie in September 1994, Mary Uminski has decided to retire from her position as the Manager of Early Childhood Programs after inspiring and bringing joy to our younger guests for over 24 years. Imagining Conner Prairie without Mary is hard. With her recently announced decision to retire, we took a trip back in time to revisit some of Mary's favorite memories of her time with us. Her journey at Conner Prairie first started in 1994 when she was hired to run a program named Prairie Pioneers, an hour-long class for preschool through first-grade youth that took place inside the Prairie House. "We would take the children back in time, go up in the wagon or cabin, they would interact with some of the tools or play with old-time toys and games. It was loads of fun.”

After some time, Mary was approached to work on other various school and educational programs which included tours, Trail of the Trades, and other programming that ran at that time. Along with those programs, Mary was also asked to manage and maintain Create.Connect and Craft Corner when the Welcome Center was first brought in 10 years ago. "I have always done a little bit of everything, but I loved it!”

The help that Mary provided with various other programs led to Conner Prairie approaching her about directing a program specifically for preschoolers. "At first it was called ‘Tuesday for Tots,' and we met out at the Prairie House, but after surveying the parents, we found that Fridays worked best, so we moved the program to Fridays.”

This called for a name change, and the program morphed into what we now know as Prairie Tykes and Tots. “Some of my favorite programs overtime has been Prairie Pioneers and Gingerbread Jamboree. If you come into work and maybe aren’t feeling so good, doing programs like those made you feel good, makes you feel happy. The kids are so enthused and excited, and it’s just a lot of fun.” Of course, 24 years is a very long time, so when reflecting on her duration at Conner Prairie, Mary had nothing but confident things to say about the future of the early childhood programs. "I'm very proud of how we've been able to grow all of the youth programs here, we tightened them up and tried to make improvements each year and add different experiences to them. I hope the programs continue to grow, and that they'll be able to stay in place. I know that the Programs Team has a lot of exciting stuff planned!”

Although she's retiring from her position, Mary will still be with Conner Prairie for the next few months to help transition some of the youth programs to new locations on our grounds. After which, Mary will become a Conner Prairie volunteer as well as a guest with her grandchildren. “As a volunteer, I’ll still be here most likely helping out with Craft Corner and other programs. Even though I’ll still be volunteering and visiting, I’ll miss working with a lot of the people at Conner Prairie! There is a lot of great staff here, and we all work together so well. And of course, I’ll miss working with the children all day.”

While we are sad to see Mary go as she brought so much success to the early childhood programs and joy to our younger visitors, we are overjoyed to still have her around as one of our Conner Prairie volunteers!