Originally Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013, 10:22 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 22, 2013, 9:23 am

Skip-a-Long chief Laurie Walker to retire

Comment on this story

By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Skip-a-Long CEO Laurie Walker stands in front of a collage given to her by her staff on Monday at Skip-a-Long's Moline campus. Mrs. Walker announced she will be retiring after 35 years of service.

When that late June morning arrives -- and Laurie Walker is moved to tears thinking about it -- she, as she always does, will wake at about 4 a.m.

And as she does each early a.m., she will reach for her nightstand pen and trusty notepad.

This time the jotted list will be different. Grants, staff-meeting topics and public awareness will be replaced with golf, vacation and reading.

You see, that summer morning will be the first day of retirement for the 59-year-old energetic dynamo and CEO of Skip-a-Long Child Development Services.

Ms. Walker has decided to step back, relax and change gears.

"There is a family vacation to be taken that we have been planning for three years,'' Ms. Walker said Monday afternoon at her Skip-a-Long office in Moline.

"There will be more time with our 15-year-old son, and more time with my mother, who has health issues. I'll play golf, read and I'll relax.''

The break, as anyone who has ever dealt with Ms. Walker knows, is much deserved.

Under her leadership, Skip-a-Long has enjoyed amazing growth and community outreach in 36 years. Skip-a-Long Child Development Services was founded in East Moline in 1970 as Skip-a-Long Day Care, a nonprofit organization created by local citizens concerned about the lack of quality child care available to the children from families of low economic means.

Ms. Walker and her staff have stayed true to the belief the high-quality child care plays a role in helping people rise out of adverse circumstances, that it gives a hand up to both children and parents in hopes they both will succeed.

Today, Skip-a-Long Child Development Services is comprised of four campuses in two states. It also manages the Home Child Care Network for private-home child-care facilities throughout the Illinois and Iowa Quad-Cities, as well as in Peoria.

It has evolved during the years from an agency whose main focus was to provide quality child care to the working poor to one that helps provide quality care to all children.

In 1976, when Ms. Walker was named CEO, Skip-a-Long operated with a budget of slightly more than $105,000. Today, that budget exceeds $10 million, and Skip-a-Long serves more than 900 children and parents each day.

"Laurie has had a vision of high-quality, safe and fun learning environments for children, and has taken all of her staff on the same journey,'' said Sue Cooper, Skip-a-Long chief operating officer. "Her a business acumen has allowed Skip-a-Long to grow from one building providing child care for children ages 2 to 5 into one of the region's most recognized not-for-profit organizations.''

Ever humble and always gracious, Ms. Walker is quick to credit Skip-a-Long's success to its dedicated board members past and present, area civic and corporate leaders, a philanthropic community and, most important, its staff.

"One of the best things about my job is a quarterly staff meeting with new hires,'' said Ms. Walker, an Augustana College graduate. "I love it because I get to share the feelings of our current staff and board with those who have just come aboard. I tell them if this is just a job for you, then you are in the wrong place.

"Skip-a-Long grabs you and becomes a part of you. It's just the way it is. It's in your heart. I have seen it with board and staff for 36 years, and I love sharing it with others. I have been to other areas and have yet to find one that equals the Quad-Cities' love, affection and purpose for what we are about. It's been amazing. I will miss that terribly.''

Ms. Cooper noted Skip-a-Long will move forward when Ms. Walker retires, but it will be impossible to duplicate the work of such an inspiring and caring person.

"Laurie has probably touched and influenced more lives than just about anyone in the Quad- Cities over the past 36 years,'' Ms. Cooper said. "Under Laurie's guidance, the goals were always the same. We have served children and families by providing high quality, affordable child care which not only advances the education and social skills of children, but allows their parents to have a job or go to school knowing that their children are in a safe, caring, learning environment.

"Laurie always has looked out for staff for the betterment of the children. She encourages staff to challenge themselves, advance their educations and be on top of the latest developments and advances in child care.''

Though it's six months in the offing, Ms. Walker -- while reaching for a tissue -- knows the day of goodbye is coming.

"I don't have any idea of that day,'' she said. "And I get emotional thinking about it. There's something special about this place. Here's another example of how Skip-a-Long becomes part of you: We have two cooks who have been with us for over 20 years, and one if them takes three different buses each day to get here. That's what this is about. I'm proud of all of it and I'll miss it terribly, but ...''

It's time for a new list.