Britta Gustafson: A sweet send-off to our very own Mother Nature | AspenTimes.com
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Britta Gustafson: A sweet send-off to our very own Mother Nature

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

There are many sad stories in the world today, so here is one with a happy ending.

It’s a story about an unsung local hero, a time-tested local legacy, and the magical little world called Wildwood.

Some smiles are so genuine, they rise up and radiate with the very same kindness they are extending. These smiles shine through the eyes and are celebrated across the face, persuading you to join them. Those who possess such smiles are not just blessed with a beautiful grin; they are the true givers of kindness, the heart-on-their-sleeves types, who are beyond good natured. They are the warmth of sunshine wrapped in the comfort of a mother’s hug.

Mrs. Becky’s smile is all you really need to know about her. She is that smile personified. And Becky Helmus deserves the outpouring of love flowing her way as she retires this year after four decades of supporting the families and teaching the children of our community as the director at Wildwood Preschool.

Becky has dedicated herself to the children of this valley peacefully and generously for nearly 40 years. She did it quietly, nestled among beaver ponds, willows and evergreens off of a bumpy road. She dried tears, held hands and helped to cultivate the concept of “The Wildwood Family” in the domes that appear to have grown right out of the earth, like little Hobbit houses covered in grass and daffodils. Becky’s love, compassion and kindness has helped to pave the welcoming steps into the environmental preschool for both young children and their nervous new parents since 1981, supporting countless new families on that journey as they learned to navigate the challenging years of early childhood.

Built first in the mind of founder and visionary Bob Lewis, coming to fruition in 1974 up on White River National Forest land, Wildwood’s school is nothing short of magical. The setting, the structure and the program are each a local treasure, envisioned by Bob and nurtured by Becky and her team.

When I brought my own kids to the Wildwood school that I, myself, had attended as a child, it was still Becky who welcomed me back. Each time I stepped into the office up at Wildwood, my kids would crawl right into Tina Person’s loving arms and I would secure a hug from Becky. And as the door closed behind me, I would just know that every little thing was going to be all right because she knew how to empathize with and support young parents, and she understood the challenges of the working local family.

More than once she helped to guide me when I could not find my way. She comforted me and dried my tears as a timid little girl trying to make new friends in the dress-up nook when I was four. And then again, drying many more tears when I felt helpless and unsure of how to survive as a newly single mom.

Sometimes a good life is one that leaves a gentle ripple instead of a splash. The kind of life that extends warmth and outreach throughout the whole community, whether they seem aware of its lulling, grounding effect or not. Nurturing thousands of Aspen children since it opened its doors, Wildwood has helped shape lives and helped shape our community.

I know I’m not alone in thanking Becky for reminding us all, once again, how to play and explore and how to celebrate the process of growing into parents. For many generations now, families have learned from the Wildwood philosophy that children are our most precious resource and deserve to be cherished. Many of us have taken that philosophy with us into the bigger schools and the outside world, extending compassion beyond our personal family units and making this world just a little better, one smile at a time.

In her speech at the Wildwood Gala this past March, Becky insisted that her greatest accomplishment was hiring amazing people. “That was Becky,” her colleagues say; she is humble and stands back, supporting and propping up everyone around her so they can shine as brightly as possible. A leader with that talent is inspiring. Becky’s ability to lead with love at the helm was one of her most admirable qualities.

For anyone who has ever given all they have in love toward raising other people’s children, toward guiding their little minds and nourishing the soil in which their interests and ideas could grow, you must know that Becky would never leave Wildwood unless she could be sure she was leaving the Wildwood community in more than capable hands.

Stepping into the role of director is Tina Person, an equally amiable force. Like the gentle rays of early morning sunlight that promise hope and encourage faith, Tina is ready to expand her loving glow. Tina awakens the natural inspiration in children, highlighting every dewy leaf and misty mountain snowflake. She reminds us to slow down and really listen as the chickadees delight in their song.

Over the past 28 years Becky and Tina, who remain the best of friends, have worked together. As director and assistant director, they have continuously built on the original Wildwood philosophy, transforming early child care into just what it should be for a family: all about wonder, compassion and love. If you have ever seen the shining faces of children, sitting up on the domed roofs of Wildwood, popsicles in hand, you know there is hope for the future.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at brittag@ymail.com.


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