RED OAK — Fond memories returned as former classmates reunited Friday evening at the celebration of Bill and Noma Lankford and their 42 years of running Happy House Day Care.

During the reunion, Ovilla Mayor Richard Dormier read a proclamation to Noma Lankford that named Jan. 18, 2018 as "Bill and Noma Lankford Day" in the City of Ovilla.

As the guest arrived, many stories were shared about the Lankford’s, their love for children and their Christian faith.

Of the stories recalled, several retold the story of a tornado that touched down close to the daycare in 1979.

“As the tornado neared, Ms. Noma gathered all of us in the front classroom. She placed a chair with its back to the window and sat down in it. She then had all of us sit down for circle time," Mark Watson recalled. "Circle time was when we would sit in a circle, read bible verses, sing songs, and pray together. When it had passed. Almost all of the houses on the south side of Ovilla Road were destroyed and many just north were heavily damaged."

Noma added, "our faith protected us" as Watson finished the memory.

What started in a small frame house on the north side of Ovilla Road in 1975 grew with the family and number of children.

“Bill enclosed the garage and then added another room for the infants. Then the upstairs was built,” said the Lankford's daughter and current director, Connie Easton.

Noma added, “As we grew, we needed to get the school-age children to and from the only elementary in Red Oak. At first, the Red Oak bus picked them up right in front of the school. One day they said they could no longer do that, so Bill and I went to a dealership in Dallas. We found this yellow van. So I called my banker, at home and told him we found a van. He told the dealer to get us what we needed and he would take care of the paperwork. We drove that big, yellow, eighteen-passenger bus home that night."

Over the years, several of the original students have returned to the daycare to teach, some even enrolling their children.

“I started here as a three-year old. Now, I work here as a teacher and bring my little girl. I just couldn’t leave. It’s just like a family,” Lindsey Reeves said.

Among those in attendance for the celebration was three generations of former students — Monica Rodriguez, who was once was a student and now teaches with her mother, Angie Rodrigues, and Monica's daughter, Mariah Saucedo, who was also a student.

FAITH-BASED, FAMILY-FOCUSED

The Lankfords’ faith did not stop at the school, as Noma would take the kids to a vacation bible school at a nearby church every summer.

”Bill and Noma had a big hand in me getting my first Bible. I have carried it every since,” said Watson, showing a well-read bible.

Bill Lankford was also active in the day care and helped Noma when needed.

“In 1977, there was a bad ice storm and the teachers had called in sick. Ms. Noma called Bill and asked him to come help while she cooked lunch. Bill came with several animal traps and entertained the children showing the children how they worked trapping rolled up newspapers,” Watson recalled.

Bill passed away tragically in 1990, which left Noma to run the daycare on her own.

“She wanted to take time off to mourn, but she committed to her kids, and although difficult She continued working at the daycare," Watson said.

Her committed helped to give students like Brian Taggart an opportunity at normalcy.

“Brian started here when he was three," said Carolyn Taggart, Brian's mother. "When he was five, my husband and I divorced. I could not afford to pay for daycare and wondered how I was going to care for a child with Downs Syndrome. Ms. Noma told me not to worry, he would be taken care of,”

As Brian grew older, he continued to come back and be a helper. I Just really love Miss Nome and this place,” Brian said.

The school continues with Connie Lankford-Easton as the director. Her sister, Sonya Jenkins, teaches kindergarten-age children just down the road at Ovilla Christian School.

With those in attendance gathered around, Miss Noma added, “I still come down here every day and have the circle time with the kids.”

In reading the proclamation, Dormier named Noma, as well as her two daughters, the Grand Marshals of the 2017 Heritage Day parade.

The parade will also see a return of the original float the school had in the parade several years.

“I have found all the pieces and will be putting it back together. I will have the honor of pulling the float,” Watson said.