It was the end of an era July 16 as the Gingerbread House held its final day. The day care center had been in operation since 1972, and in its current location at Mohave Avenue and Agency Road since 1976. Buni Hooper, the founder and owner of the Gingerbread House and Mish Mash Studio, has sold the building to Calvary Baptist Church.
Late in the afternoon, parents arrived to pick up their small children for the last time. One of them was David Daly, the principal at Parker High School. He said it was sad to see the Gingerbread House closing.
“It’s going to be missed,” he said. “My daughter enjoyed every minute she was here.”
Parker Mayor Karen Bonds stopped by with a special gift for Hooper: a key to the Town of Parker.
“You’ve opened so many doors for so many people, we wanted to give you the key to the Town of Parker,” Bonds said.
Bonds told Hooper than her own children and now her grandchildren have been involved with the Gingerbread House.
Hooper’s husband, Vice Mayor Jerry Hooper, joked that they had given Buni the key to the town, but they weren’t going to tell her where the lock was.
Buni Hooper thanked her staff and all the people she’s worked with over the years.
“I haven’t hired anyone who wasn’t fabulous,” she said.
Hooper is a long-term resident of Parker and a 1961 graduate of Parker High School. She became involved with early childhood care through her studies at Arizona State College in Flagstaff. The school is now Northern Arizona University.
“I’m a Lumberjack!” she said.
Hooper worked for a time for Jean McQuarry, the first director of the Parker Public Library. At the time, McQuarry was the director of the Parker Junior Women’s Club Pre-School. The school was housed in an old barracks building in Pop Harvey Park. McQuarry taught Hooper to be a pre-school teacher.
In 1972, Hooper leased a building across the street from what was then Western Auto and is now Family Dollar. She opened the Gingerbread House as a day care center that year. Among the people who helped her found the center were Penny Yunis, Barbara Jones and Beverly Robinson.
In the early days, Hooper said they had an average of about 35 students per day. They were licensed by the state for 56 students per day. The center was accredited by the Early Childhood Education Group.
Hooper later opened Mish Mash Studio in the building on Arizona Avenue that now houses the Parker Magistrate Court. The studio has taught dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, baton twirling and self-defense
Hooper said she started the day care center partly so she could open the studio.
Both the Gingerbread House and Mish Mash Studio moved into a newly-built structure at Mohave Avenue and Agency Road in 1976.
“It was a joy when we got the new building,” she said.
Hooper thanked the directors the Gingerbread House has had over the years, including Renea Tartaro, Beverly Robinson, Heather Crary and Devin Mooneyham.
Hooper said one group that was always willing to help out when needed were the parents of students at the Gingerbread House.
“The parents always helped out,” she said. “We had the best parents ever!”
As for her current staff, Hooper called Brenda Crutcher “her rock.” She also thanked her caregivers, Ashantae Bemeng and Vanessa Munoz.
Hooper made a special point of thanking her husband, Jerry. She said he made all of this possible.
“I had a dream, and he made it happen,” she said.
Hooper has received many awards and recognitions over the years. As a choreographer, she was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Producers (ASCAP). She has produced many shows and pageants.
Hooper said she will continue to be involved in Parker Youth Pageants and the La Paz County All-Stars. The latter group performs in parades such as the Veterans Day Parade and Parade of Lights from Soroptimist International of Parker. She wanted to thank the Colorado River Indian Tribes for the All-Stars’ costumes.
“I look forward to serving you young ladies at the La Paz County Fair, and with the current title holders and the pageants to be held this fall as well,” she said.
Their first event, Hooper said, would be the Native American Days Parade.
The sale of the Gingerbread House means Hooper will be moving into a new office. It will be at 912 Kofa Avenue. Her phone numbers will remain the same, 928-669-8319 and 602-663-7250.