Kathleen McCabe, a Class of 1982 graduate from SJC Brooklyn, was reveling in nostalgia Saturday, as she toured the Dillon Child Study Center.
One step inside the 50-year-old building took her right back to her days as a child study major at St. Joseph’s.
“I was like, ‘It hasn’t changed at all!'” said McCabe, reflecting on her return to the preschool. “It still smells the same. It’s awe-inspiring to see how it hasn’t changed.”
McCabe was touring the facility during a special event that celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the building that houses the program. The early childhood program itself is commemorating its 85th anniversary.
More than 85 supporters of the College and the Dillon Center — including faculty, staff and alumni — gathered in the Bloodgood Garden for a Champagne Brunch. The brunch featured encouraging speeches from St. Joseph’s President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D.; S. Patricia Dittmer, a 1972 SJC Brooklyn graduate and an assistant professor of child study; and Dillon Center Director Susan Straut Collard, Ph.D.
Tours of the Dillon Center — still decorated with the custom sculpture created by Josephine Belloso, a professor emeritus, and a former art department director — were offered by Amy Engel, director of corporate and foundation relations. Students in the 2019-20 class at the preschool performed a song called “We are a Rainbow.”
Donations collected during the brunch will mainly fund facility renovations — including heating, ventilating and air conditioning, modernizing observation rooms and reconfiguring classrooms. The rest of the donations will be allotted for the emergency fund, intended to help families in an unexpected financial struggle, and the unrestricted fund, to be used toward books, educational materials, furniture, toys, games and teacher development.
The annual Sunfest celebration immediately followed the brunch.
Coming Full Circle
S. Patricia describe the ceremony as “wonderful.”
It was a special feeling for the longtime Dillon Center professor because of the generations of students she witnessed go through the program.
“I’m teaching a child who’s mother I taught at Dillon,” S. Patricia recalled. She taught a few students — including Assistant Director Danielle Endes ’13 ’16 ’18 — who went on to become Dillon Center teachers themselves. And she even taught Dr. Straut Collard’s children, Meghan Straut Collard ’13 and Thomas Straut Collard ’16.
“I’m so blessed,” S. Pat said.
Dr. Straut Collard also experienced the “full circle” that often happens within the four walls of the Dillon Center. During her time at St. Joseph’s, Dr. Straut Collard spent 10 years — though not consecutively — running the Dillon Center. She also taught at the school.
Dr. Straut Collard’s pride in the program radiates from her whenever she speaks about the preschool and all it has to offer.
“This is my 31st year at the College,” she said. “I haven’t been the director of Dillon for 31 years, but I’ve been at the College that long. And this is a place that when you come, you never leave. This is a place where people embrace you, and they teach you, and they nurture you, and I always felt that way.”
She also gave a nod to a handful of other key players throughout the Dillon Center’s history: S. Margaret Louise, the first program director; S. Helen Kearney ’67, C.S.J., PhD., who directed the program for 24 years and is now the president of the Sister’s of St. Joseph’s; S. Alice Francis Young ’40, C.S.J., one of the first teachers in the program; and S. Patricia.
“They all played a crucial role in what the Dillon Center has been and is today,” Dr. Straut Collard said.
Dr. Boomgaarden added to that sentiment, thanking the donors and teachers — past and present — who contribute to the Dillon Center’s success.
“Here’s to another 85 years of the Dillon Center,” said Dr. Boomgaarden, as he raised his glass.
Decades of Dillon Center History
The Dillon Center began making its mark in history when it was established in 1934, by former St. Joseph’s President Monsignor William T. Dillon. The facility was one of the first campus laboratory preschools on the east coast — giving St. Joseph’s students the unique opportunity to use the observation rooms learn from Master’s-level teachers, while they are demonstrating lessons for children.
The Dillon Center kept evolving after its inception.
The preschool opened its current building on Vanderbilt Avenue in 1969. In the years to follow, the Dillon Center opened a program to serve children with developmental delays and a toddler program was formed for 18-30 month old children. By 1998 the Dillon Center opened a New York State-approved preschool inclusion class, serving both typically and atypically developing children in the same classroom.
The Dillon Center’s impact has been recognized by a number of generous donations throughout the past couple of years.
In February, Catherine Brown, a longtime Brooklyn resident and friend of SJC, made a generous donation to the Dillon Center. The Sisters of St. Joseph received a donation of $750,000, designated for the Dillon Center, from Brown’s estate.
The Class of 1958 also recently donated new and safe playground equipment to the Dillon Center.
While aspects of the preschool changed over the years, S. Patricia noted that its commitment to developing the whole child — forming them into a lifelong learner, with natural curiosity and the freedom to express his or her own feelings and ideas — will always stay constant.
“There are many changes in society and in education, but one thing remains solid: our commitment to our children, to the families, and to our college students,” S. Patricia said. “We thank Msgr. Dillon and all those who have came before us. And we thank [Dr. Boomgaarden] and everyone at the College who has supported us and has been so good to us.”