She’s known as the Mary Poppins of Siesta Key.
For 40 years, Janice Howle ran the Key’s first day-care center in her home, helping to rear hundreds of the island’s children.
In 1950, Howle and her husband, Arch — now deceased — moved to Siesta to escape the cold climate they had endured in Illinois. Howle had worked in a glass factory, and her husband had been in the U.S. Air Force.
When the couple moved to Siesta, Arch took a night job working as a bartender at The Beach Club.
There, he started talking up his wife to his customers, recommending her as a great baby sitter for couples who wanted a night out alone. Soon, Howle was watching her friends’ kids while the adults played bridge.She also took care of the babies of working couples. With business booming, she got a license to turn her home into a day-care center, Howle’s Childcare. The license allowed Howle to watch over 15 children at a time.
“I took babies at first, but there got to be too many, and it was more than I could handle,” Howle says. “So, if they could walk, I would take them.”
When Howle’s Childcare opened its doors, no other day-care, pre-school or kindergarten program existed on Siesta Key. She was the answer to any working parent’s prayer. She became so popular that she had a waiting list of parents seeking the services of “Miss Janice,” as she fondly was called.
Howle has two children of her own, Gary and Gordon. Through both pregnancies, Howle continued to take care of the children of Siesta Key. Her children joined in the fun she created in her work.
“Gary would ask me every morning, ‘Mom, who am I playing with today?’” Howle remembers.
Howle made sure she did not waste the time she spent with her charges. The children, who usually ranged in age from 2 to 5, enjoyed walks around the block while learning their numbers from mailboxes. They enjoyed story time on their mats, and, in the summer, they lined up, hand-in-hand, and crossed Beach Road, to spend an hour at the beach digging in the sand. Most importantly, Howle says, she made sure to teach the children how to get along with one another and have fun.
“I was the mother when the mother was away, and then, it got so I was the grandmother when the mother was away,” she says.
In the 1990s, Howle continued to work with children as a nanny for a few families on the Key. Miss Janice had become a legend in the neighborhoods. Children she had reared were having children, and they wanted their babies reared by Miss Janice as well.
Although she closed the day-care center some time ago, it’s obvious her love of the community and youngsters has remained vibrant. Today, Howle works at the Mustard Seed thrift shop. However, for the past 10 years, she has volunteered twice a week with the kindergartners at Phillippi Shores Elementary School.
Howle says her most fervent hope is that she made a difference in the lives of the more than 200 children she watched during the past four decades.