Erica Shirk’s gift to the community is the Early Learning Center she founded | Faith + Values

KeepHealthCare.ORG – Erica Shirk’s gift to the community is the Early Learning Center she founded | Faith + Values

Erica Shirk isn’t looking for presents on her 90th birthday. Instead, she wants friends and family who celebrate her birthday on May 26 to make a donation to the New Holland Early Learning Center.

“A contribution to the center would be the best birthday gift,” said the soon-to-be nonagenarian.  

Shirk humbly admits the 37-year-old center to provide childcare for working mothers located at the New Holland Mennonite Church was a dream come true for her when it opened in April 1981.

She championed opening a church daycare when the congregation  moved to a newly built facility at its current location at 18 Western Ave. in 1974. As a founding member, she served on the committee to research child care needs in the New Holland community.

“There was a great need and I felt the church had a responsibility to provide a safe place for children,” said Shirk.

Because the daycare required state approval and aides had to be high school graduates, Shirk took classes at Conestoga Valley High School and received her GED in 1974.

She didn’t graduate from high school because she and her family were World War II refugees. Her  parents had lived on the border between France and Germany and were displaced during both world wars.

In 1946 Shirk married her husband, the late Frank Shirk. They moved to New Holland in 1948. Her husband was pastor of New Holland Mennonite Church from 1958 to 1980. He died in 2014.

It’s no surprise the personable Shirk loves children. Growing up as a twin with 15 siblings (10 still living), she wanted a big family. The couple raised nine children today aged 52 to 68. Louise Longenecker (Bill), Thompsontown; Sylvia, Lima, Peru; Hilda Farmer (Wes) and Philip (Jewel Kurtz), Lancaster; Ed (Phyllis), Portland, Oregon; Eric (Karen), Broadway, Virginia; Mim Byler (Ron) and Dorothy, Goshen, Indiana; and Peter, Leola.

Her son, Peter, said the family is proud of their mother, who lives her faith every day.   

“Six of us will be at mother’s birthday drop-in reception at the church,” said her daughter, Louise. “Her twin brother, Theo Hege, from Wissembourge, France, (which is) her hometown, will be there, too.”

Not all of the children can attend the celebration, but the whole family will be together the following weekend for a family wedding in Goshen, Indiana.  

With the exception of the two years she  spent serving with the Mennonite Central Committee in Europe, Shirk has supported the center since its inception.

Though no longer an active volunteer, she shows her care with visits and as an advocate.

“We appreciate her faithful support,” said the Rev. Dawn Ranck Hower.    

Today, Shirk is pleased with how the center has grown. Initially open only two days a week, it is now open year-round and serves more than 100 children. Hower said the center offers day care, preschool, before/after school and summer programs for children six-weeks through sixth grade.

On May 26, Shirk will celebrate two milestones — her 90th birthday and the growth of the Early Learning Center.

“I’m thankful to God for both,” she said.


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