VIP Preschool Sisters Lori Scheffler and Carol Fink leave a legacy of love

David Peck

“There was not a day in 27 years we didn’t want to go to work. It was always just fun.”

- Lori Scheffler


Sometimes it’s difficult to leave something you absolutely love doing, but then again, maybe that’s the best time.

Such was the case recently with sisters Carol Fink and Lori Scheffler, who retired in May after nearly 27 years owning and operating VIP Preschool in Lovell. The duo celebrated with a retirement party May 19 at the building they have shared with the Children’s Resource Center at 435 E. 5th in Lovell.

VIP was started by Leslie Hoffman some 50 years ago, Scheffler and Fink said, and Hoffman operated the preschool for about 13 years out of her home. Then Sue Walker took the reins and operated the preschool at 750½ Kansas Avenue for 10 years, sharing the facility with Absaroka Head Start at the alley location now used the by Shooting Star Academy.

When Sue passed away, Scheffler and Fink took over in August of 1995 and have operated the school ever since. They said it was hard to lose their good friend but they were glad to continue her legacy.

“It was very sad to lose Sue, but we were enthusiastic about assuming the preschool,”

 Fink said. “Sue and I had cancer at the same time, and we spent a lot of time together.”

“Sue said to Carol, ‘If I don’t make it, rock my grandbabies,’” Scheffler recalled. “Ten of them came to the party last week.”

“It’s been really fun to see the Walker kids. We got to love on them,” Fink said. “We always told them how Grandma Sue had the preschool.”

Scheffler had been operating a daycare out of her home for around eight years, and Fink had taught preschool in Indiana at a Christian community church, and after moving home to Lovell in 1991, she volunteered at Lovell Elementary School. So the two had some experience in the field but also took college courses in early childhood education.

Some three years into their venture, in 1998, CRC was about to move into the new building on 5th Street when an idea came to the CRC staff. Why not combine programs?

“We had been taking classes through the college from Shawna Fagnant, an early childhood education professor who was also involved in CRC as the Part B (3-5-year-olds) coordinator,” Scheffler said. “She said to us, ‘You’ve got to join our team and have your preschool in our building.’”

Said both sisters in unison, “It was the best thing ever.”

“All of a sudden we had more room and support. We had access to occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy
and a special education teacher – all in our building,” Fink said.

“They would come into our classroom and do activities with all of the kids, not just those who were on services (through CRC),” Scheffler said, and noting that VIP Preschool has been a private preschool operating inside CRC’s structure, she added, “We get all of the benefits of CRC but are our own entity.”

“It’s totally an integrated preschool,” Fink said. “We take all of CRC’s kids with our kids and make it one great school.”

But that arrangement is going away with the retirement of the Minchow (maiden name) sisters. VIP will no longer be in operation as a private preschool. Leanne Winterholler will be the lead teacher now, having worked with VIP as a paraprofessional for two years, though now fully under the umbrella of CRC.

“She’s wonderful,” Scheffler said.

All students accepted

VIP Preschool ran three classes a day, two hours each, three days a week from Tuesday through Thursday. The sisters said each class had an average of 14 to 16 students, with a low number of nine and as high as 21.

“We’ve never turned a child away,” Fink said. “There’s always room.”

The school has been for 4- and 5-year-olds, depending on a child’s birthdate, and some students attend for two years.

“We call it the growth year (the second year),” the sisters said.

Over the years, Scheffler and Fink have kept the rates low, noting that they studied a private preschool in Worland when they took over VIP and their current rates are what Worland was charging 27 years ago.

A typical two-hour class might include social time and play as the kids arrive, followed by circle time with the Pledge of Allegiance, songs, calendar time, learning shapes and patterns, story time and the letter of the week through chants and songs, then in the big room students working at different centers, play planning, crafts, games, a snack and, finally, some play outside if the weather permits.

Even though the students are “playing games,” it’s all a process of hands-on learning through play. There are various themes throughout the year.

Throughout it all, the sisters were in constant communication sharing ideas and plans including what worked or didn’t work on a particular day.

“It’s hilarious,” Fink said. “Our husbands will say, ‘Didn’t you just spend the day with your sister? What are you talking about?’ But we don’t have time to talk during the day.”

“Our day moves so quickly. It’s a very fast-paced day. There’s always filler if you end up with extra time,” Scheffler added. “We’re often running over; we’re having too much fun.”

Classes began at 8 a.m., 10:15 a.m. and 1 p.m., and in between the rooms were cleaned and sanitized.

Asked what the best thing about running a preschool is, Fink responded, “The best thing about this is the kids and the families, and working together, but also the CRC staff. The director, Mitch Brauchie, is fantastic.”

“It’s rewarding just to be a part of these kids’ lives,” Scheffler added, “watching them grow through the school year and then watching them grow into successful adults – good, kind people.”

“Once you’re a VIP, you’re always a VIP,”
Fink said.

CRC family service coordinator Heather Sawaya said the sisters and VIP will be very much missed.

“It’s the end of the Lori and Carol era,” she said. “We’re going to miss them like crazy. We plan on keeping a piece of their heart and honoring what they did with the kids. We’ll have all of the same services and still have the preschool, but it’s the end of an era. We’re going to miss them every day.”

Just because they’re retiring from VIP doesn’t mean the sisters will be slowing down. They’re used to wearing multiple hats. When Minchow’s Food Court opened in 1997, Scheffler became the manager and kept that role for 17 years, and Fink helped from time to time. Then Dave and Lori Scheffler took on the role of operating The Point youth house across the parking lot from Lovell High School in 2014, providing “a safe place for teens to hang out, eat, play games and be loved,” a place to be accepted and not judged,” Scheffler said.

“Carol is huge in that (The Point), also,” Scheffler said. “We kind of do everything together, like with Relay for Life.”

“That’s how we operate,” Fink agreed. “Now it’s just the big kids, many of which we had at VIP, so it’s super fun.”

Both said they’ll be able to concentrate on their own grandchildren now, while also enjoying more time with their mother, Jackie Minchow.

The perfect time

Reflecting on their decision to retire from the preschool, both sisters said it was simply the right time.

“When we started we said OK, we’ll do this until we’re not having fun anymore, and here we are, 27 years later, and still having fun. So what are we doing?” Scheffler said. “I guess it’s good to go out on a fun.”

“Talk about getting your bucket filled. That’s what preschool does,” Fink added.

“There was not a day in 27 years we didn’t want to go to work,” Scheffler said. “It was always just fun.”

“It was the hardest decision we’ve ever made,” Fink concluded. “We felt like we’re still having so much fun, maybe this was the right time.”