Forty-five is a magical number for Noma Lankford.
She has been ushering children in and out of Happy House Day Care on Ovilla Road in Red Oak for four and a half decades, and that’s how long she has decided she can keep doing it.
As the doors of Happy House were closed for good on Friday, Lankford said it has been a good run.
“I want to travel… A few things that I’d like to do, kind of like a bucket list,” the 86-year-old said.
When she purchased the property in 1975, Lankford said she explained to the property owner that her only vision was to teach children in a Christian environment with love and compassion.
“I’ll teach them and it would have to be that I can teach them about Jesus and tell them who he is and what he has done for us,” she explained.
Residents say Lankford has left an indelible mark on the community, having nurtured generations of children in the tens of thousands from Red Oak and other surrounding cities.
Robert Martin enrolled his toddlers into the daycare back in 2000 and 2004 when he was a single father. His grandchildren also attended Happy House, including a 1-year-old granddaughter who was among the last 25 to 30 attendees when it closed on Friday.
“I know Miss Noma has put a lot of years into it and now it’s time for her to go out and enoy…,” Martin maintained. “I’m just so happy for her. It brings tears to my eyes.”
“My grandson took her a plant and a cross [Wednesday] because he loved her,” he added. “It’s just a really great environment, a great atmosphere. Miss Noma and Miss Connie, they’re just wonderful people.”
Connie Easton has been helping her mother run the facility for the last 37 years. At the height of its popularity, the daycare had up to 200 kids a day.
“We’ve seen a lot of children come in and out,” Easton said. “So many of the children, when they get older, come back and say how much they love Happy House and what they’ve learned and what’ve stuck with them through the years.”
Adding to the awards she has received over the years, the City of Red Oak recently honored Lankford with a Certificate of Recognition, hand-delivered by Mayor Dr. Mark Stanfill.
“It’s sad when we see a pillar of the city close after so many years, but we are so grateful that she chose Red Oak to call home for her business,” Stanfill admitted. “She touched the lives of three generations of kids. It’s not often that a small business can stay open and be owned by the same person for that long.”
Lankford, who had up to eight employees before scaling down recently, said she was honored to be recognized by the city.
“It was really a blessing to me. It really was,” Lankford acknowledged.
On Friday, Red Oak ISD Superintendent Brenda Sanford and the school board also recognized the daycare operator with a Certificate of Recognition.
Some of the company’s former employees have since been employed elsewhere and the three who remained until Friday have also obtained new jobs, Easton confirmed.
Easton admitted that putting the nearly 9000-square-foot building up for sale, with all of its memories, was a difficult process. In 1979, two storeys were added to the single unit on the 1-acre lot to make room for the droves of children who found it to be happy house. A gymnasium was built in 1985.
“This place has pulled mother through a lot of sadness,” Easton reminisced. “When my father was killed in an ultralight accident [in 1990], this place pulled her through. The kids prayed her through college… She had to go back to college and the kids prayed and prayed for her and she came out a straight-A student.”
Easton confessed she and her mother will mostly miss the children and families they’ve come to love over many years.
“You become a family up here,” she disclosed. “You help one another through hard times and good times. We’ve cried with one another. We’ve prayed with families and we’ve just all become a family. It’s going to be hard, but it’s time for me to take care of my mother and so that’s what we’ve decided to do.”
A retirement reception will be held at Happy House at 2518 Ovilla Rd. on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 3 p.m.