"We would love for you to volunteer at the children's museum," Maggie Lancaster's neighbor said.
"You got it," Maggie replied.
Nearly fifteen years later, Maggie is the new executive director for the Grand Rapids Children's Museum (GRCM). She spends her days in a building with floors and walls shaking from the energy of children constructing mazes, tunnels and hideouts from boxes.
"How can you work at the children's museum and not have fun?" Maggie said.
GRCM's mission is all about play. We are an environment for play, the website states. We advocate for the value of play. We build minds through play.
"Investment in early childhood is critical," Maggie said, and GRCM believes play is an important component of early childhood, essential for healthy development. GRCM, which welcomes around 160,000 visitors each year, accomplishes its mission by providing exhibits that change every four months and classes that change daily.
Giant bubbles, PVC pipes and bathtubs full of popcorn kernels: These exhibits and classes look like anything but a lesson to children.
"Sometimes I just want to take a four-year old by the shoulders and say, 'This is the scientific method! You're learning the scientific method!' He just thinks he's having fun," Maggie said.
Maggie grew up in Holt, Michigan, with her parents and brother. She graduated from Holt High School and attended Alma College, where she pursued a degree in secondary education.
"It was second grade," Maggie said. "Mrs. Doty. I remember talking to her, and she inspired me and encouraged me and told me I could be whatever I wanted. I said, 'I want to be a teacher,' and that never changed."
After graduating, Maggie taught in the social sciences department at Jenison High School, where she also coached golf and basketball. She went on to coach women's basketball at Grand Rapids Community College. When she became pregnant, her husband had just entered the field as a physician after 14 years of schooling and residency, which allowed her to stay home as a mom with her two sons, Aidan and Grant.
"I spent those years with them and loved it," Maggie said. "Everyone always says Grand Rapids is a great place to raise kids, but you don't really understand until you have kids and you're raising them. I could take them everywhere."
Maggie not only carried her sons throughout Grand Rapids; she volunteered in the city. At one point, she was on the board for Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids Children's Museum, Egypt Valley Country Club and Thornapple Valley Baseball League (TVBL), where she also coached. Moreover, she volunteered at CASA, Family Futures and Make A Wish Foundation.
"I feel I have been given everything in life. I grew up with parents who let me go and play in the forest—whether that was OK or not, I'm not sure!" Maggie laughed. "But I grew up in a safe community. I had food and a home. They gave me the simple things. Great food. Shoes—I never had holes in my shoes—and they supported me and loved me. If you're given that, I feel you have the obligation to give it back tenfold."
Maggie's role as executive director blends all three of her favorite jobs: mother, coach and teacher. As a mother, she's responsible for all the children who walk through the museum's doors. As a coach, she leads her team. As a teacher, she oversees the classes and exhibits.
"It's the perfect job," Maggie said. "I'm gonna give it my all."
Written by Cassie Westrate, staff writer for West Michigan Woman magazine.