Longtime child care owners sell to trusted employee

Feb. 15, 2019

There weren’t many players in the Sioux Falls child care industry when brothers Dan and John Dougherty became accidental owners 20 years ago.

They were landlords for the child care center, which leased space in a building they owned near the one that housed their business, Dougherty & Associates.

One day, the center was operational; the next, it had closed without explanation, leaving parents scrambling for child care.

At that time, there were just a few child care centers in the city, Dan Dougherty said. His friend, Thea Miller Ryan, took the kids to The Outdoor Campus for the day. And then, he and his brother decided that rather than remodel a child care center into offices they should get into ownership.

“I did it in a day,” he said. “I bought everything and put it in there in a day’s time.”

A little Gov. Bill Janklow-era state government magic, and he was cleared to open almost immediately.

For the Love of Children Learning Center has operated at 3704 S. Westport Ave. ever since.

“That’s what shocks me is I’ve been in business 20 years,” Dougherty said. “And all the day cares that have started and went broke – at least a dozen I think – but Sioux Falls is doing quite a bit better, and there’s a need for day care.”

He plans to stay in the insurance business, but he felt after two decades it was time to transition the child care center.

It helped that there was a clear successor: Marsha Kirschman, who began working there 10 years ago as a young mother who didn’t want to spent time away from her two kids.

“So I started working here, and they started coming with me, and I just never left,” she said.

She started as an assistant teacher, became a head teacher and then the junior kindergarten teacher for five years before being promoted to assistant director, co-director and director.

“And this year, I’m the owner,” she said. “I turn 40 this year and said, ‘I’m getting to a point that I want to buy the business, and if you’re ever going to sell it, I want to be the one you come to.’ And they said, ‘Of course.’ They’re just part of my family, and I’m part of theirs. We’ve kind of adopted each other,” she said.

The learning center is licensed for 148 children beginning at 4 weeks old up to age 12. There are 126 kids there now.

The business also transports children to and from schools.

“I just find some of the most caring caregivers,” Kirschman said “They treat them like their own, and they’re in the business for the right reasons. We deal with a lot of young mothers, and we try to help them be good mothers.”

She officially became the owner at the beginning of the year.

“It’s been a good whirlwind,” she said. “I’ve been managing it by myself the last five years, and they let me take the reins, but they’re still more than willing to keep mentoring me.”

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Longtime child care owners sell to trusted employee

Twenty years after they became accidental owners of a child care center, the brothers who own For the Love of Children have sold it to a longtime employee.

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