— By Annette Logan
Mrs. Marshall sat contently in her home, surrounded by 38 years of the memories of children’s laughter, questions, curiosity and activity when I interviewed her in 2003. The year prior, she closed her doors. In meeting her, you would have been immediately engrossed by her warm spirit and enthusiasm as she shared the story of how she came to start Robinson Day Care.
Originally from Saint Mary’s Georgia, Anest Robinson moved to the Evanston area in 1950 living first for six months with a family in Winnetka where she cared for their young child before the family transferred to Florida. Mrs. Robinson then moved to Evanston and reunited with her husband, Marion Robinson, and her two children Marion Jr. and Cynthia from Georgia. The family rented an apartment at 1940 Wesley from Alberta Logan who had owned the property for years.
Mrs. Robinson’s second job was with Mary E. Johnson Nursery School located on the southwest corner of Emerson and Maple. During her 10 years at the school her caring reputation grew tremendously. Her love for children was obvious to everyone who met her and parents were assured their children would be well cared for. She had a wonderful way with children and their wellbeing was always top priority.
38 years of dedicated and caring service
In 1959, Mrs. Robinson and her husband purchased a brick bungalow home located just west of Evanston Township High School. At this time, Mrs. Robinson began dreaming of opening up her own daycare center in her home. As she planned for this venture, she enrolled in classes at Chicago Loop College in order to obtain her certification in childcare. Unfortunately during this time, two years after she and Marion Robinson moved into their new home, Mr. Robinson died suddenly. They were happily married for 26 years at that time. Faced with the loss of a husband she found comfort in God and knowing that she had family and friends to help her through this difficult time. “I am a Christian with a strong faith in God and he has always seen me through,” says Mrs. Robinson of the difficulty following her husband’s death.
Mrs. Robinson completed her courses and received her license to open her daycare. She then converted her basement into a haven for preschoolers and turned her backyard into a playground equipped with swings, sandbox, monkey bars and much more. The city inspector and the Department of Family Services approved her property and she was ready for business, except for one very important requirement. Said Mrs. Robinson, a faithful and dedicated member of Ebenezer for 50 years, “I had my pastor at the time, Reverend Maurice Higginbotham from Ebenezer A.M.E. Church and my two dear friends, Lois Johnson and Anna Bell Frazier, come over for a dedication ceremony. We prayed that the blessings of the Lord would be bestowed upon my business and that His love and protection would be present there everyday.”
Robinson Day Care officially opened its doors in 1964 at 2323 Lake Street in Evanston. With the help of her daughter, Cynthia Cannon, and several licensed teachers, Barbara Cannon, Ruth Cochran and Lucy Stringer, the school started out with seven children. Her license allowed her home to accommodate up to 40 children for daycare, ages ranging from two to five.
Her daycare facility also included an after school program for children five to twelve. Hours of operation were from 7:00 am until 5:30 pm. Families were charged $15.00 per week per child. Dr. Charles Johnson wanted the best for his children. “I was only making $60.00 a week at the time and I was paying $25.00 a week to send my kids there. I wanted the best for my children and it was the only place in our community where the children were being educated. There were other places to send your kids but they were babysitters. Mrs. Robinson’s school always had a waiting list.” By 2002, the fee had incrementally increased to $135.00 per week; still a very affordable childcare facility for working parents.
The children learned their ABC’s, shapes, numbers, how to write their name, engaged in arts and crafts, and of course, took naps and had playtime. Hands on activities enforced the learning experience. However, there were times when discipline was the lesson. Children learned that there were consequences to their actions. Privileges were taken away when behavior was an issue and awarded for tasks done well.
As the word got out about the care Mrs. Robinson and her staff provided, more and more parents enrolled their children in Robinson Day Care. As the business grew more teachers were employed. They were Marie Revis, Basha Royster, Sandra Stringer, Johnnie Jackson, Alice Kennedy, Nell Young and Catherine Gooden. Robinson’s daughter, Cynthia Cannon, went back to school to complete her degree in education at Northeastern University and, in the mid 80’s became the Director of Robinson Day Care. The business was run with great integrity, commitment and a sincere love for children.
41-year-old Doug Whitmore, a State Police & Safety Officer has wonderful memories of when he and his brother, Ron Whitmore, were dropped off at daycare. “It was a place where all the little black kids hung out and I made a lot of friends that are still my friends today. It was a fantastic experience!”
The daycare was a very caring and nurturing environment.
The children were being groomed and successfully prepared for kindergarten. Many kindergarten teachers commended Mrs. Robinson, acknowledging that children from Robinson Day Care stood out as well disciplined and focused children. Advertising was not a necessity. Her reputation and the children who graduated from her daycare spoke for itself. Doria Johnson, a former sales executive, now on track to obtain her Ph.D., in African American history, graduated from Robinson Day Care in 1966. She remembers the naps she took and all the little cots everyone slept on. “It was a wonderful experience! The daycare was a very caring and nurturing environment. I remember having good food and I still have my diploma.”
The business grew by word of mouth and parents (fathers as well as mothers) volunteered their time to read to the children and help out in anyway they could. Margaret Walker and Ann Avington were faithful volunteers. Graduations were held at Ebenezer and the children wore caps and gowns and received their diplomas. 15 year old, Roderick Hillard, a 1992 graduate, remembers his graduation. “My graduation was very fun! Me and some of my classmates had a chance to recite a nursery rhyme during the ceremony.” When asked about his most memorable experience he noted “The little Halloween parties we would have. Everybody would come dressed in his or her costumes and we would have so much fun. Mrs. Marshall was very nice, very sweet and very generous to us.” The pianists who played at the graduations and other programs put on by Robinson Day Care were Geraldine Cooper, Juanita Sawyer and Mary Ann Robinson.
Another talent Mrs. Robinson possessed was being an extremely good cook. She prepared balanced home-cooked meals everyday for the children. Daily menus were coordinated on a weekly and monthly basis. In addition, she occasionally catered private parties on weekends and some evenings. Some former students continued to stop by after they graduated to visit the school and enjoy her good home cooking. Joey and Patricia Brooks had three of their five children attend Robinson Day Care and Joey Brooks (owner of Joey Movers for 21 years) also attended the daycare himself. Patricia Brooks remembers, “It was the kind of place you could take your kids and not worry about them. It was like you were dropping them off at your mother’s home. My 12-year-old son, Joseph, still visited her for lunch after he graduated. He loves her spaghetti.”
In 1970, Anest Robinson married her second husband, Andrew F. Marshall. They were married for 25 years and she became the stepmother of his three children, Freddie, Gloria and Drina. Mr. Marshall passed away in 1994. Even though she changed her name to Anest R. Marshall, many people continued to affectionately address her as Mrs. Robinson.
Closing her business in 2002 marked the end of 38 years of dedicated and caring service to many Evanston children. Now at age 87, Mrs. Anest R. Marshall has many fond memories of all the children whom she knew and loved. A mother of two, stepmother of three, grandmother of 10, and great grandmother of 11, children have always been and will always be a part of her world. “I still get calls everyday from parents who want to enroll their children in Robinson Day Care,” Marshal said, “They all say the same thing. We are so sorry you have closed your doors.” She smiles with contentment knowing that her life has been and still is a blessed life. Her joy comes from knowing she was able to give future generations a fruitful start in life and, over the years, God gave her the strength and knowledge to achieve all that she’s accomplished.
Sources: Original article appeared in the printed version of Shorefront Journal, volume 4, number 4, Summer 2003. Modified for consistency for the reprint. Photos courtesy of Anest Marshall except where noted