After being let go as director of Westbrook Nursery School last December, Suzanne Griffiths and her husband, Benny, searched for a new school and ministry.
CANTON Six months ago, Suzanne Griffiths could not have imagined she'd be anywhere but Westbrook Park Nursery School, where she served as director for 50 nearly years.
But an unexpected decision has sent her on a new journey of faith and mission.
Last December, Griffiths learned she would be removed as administrator of Westbrook Park's Nursery School, which she organized at her pastor's request in 1969.
Under a denominational policy involving church personnel, Griffiths and her husband, Benny, also were asked not to attend services at Westbrook Park United Methodist Church for two years.
"I just gave it to the Lord," she said. "I said, 'You've gotta speak to me through the Scriptures.'"
She believes God did just that through her daily readings, so today Griffiths is not only in the process of opening a new school, she also is overseeing a new "home" church with her husband, Benny.
Griffiths will become the new director of A+ Nursery School located in Trinity United Church of Christ at 3909 Blackburn Road NW in Plain Township starting in September.
The school is one of three owned by Brian and Ashley Reinhart.
Griffiths said she'll be joined by her former Westbrook Park staff.
"I had no plan to retire," she said. "I still feel I have a lot to give. ... The first day after winter break was a very sad day for me."
During her tenure at Westbrook, more than 8,000 children attended the nursery school. However, Griffiths refuses to cast aspersions.
"I have come to a place of peace," she said. "You can't go on living your life in bitterness. I have come to terms with it."
After a friend sent Griffiths a text containing her favorite scripture — "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) — it was the incentive she needed to move forward.
"I knew at that point I needed to do something," she said. "I just didn't know what."
"I knew Suzanne was not done with her ministry and earthly service to children and their parents, and teaching what it takes to nurture children," Benny Griffiths said. "I knew she wasn't done with that, and quite honestly, I wasn't, either."
Griffiths began searching out venues for a new school.
"We looked at site after site," she said. "So many places didn't meet our needs. But it was so reassuring that all those congregations wanted us there. They wanted us to succeed.
"Then, God sent Brian Reinhart."
The Reinharts own A+ Preschool and Nursery School in Perry Township and the Learning Tree in Jackson Township.
"My wife's entire family attended (Westbrook nursery school) as well as our son," Brian Reinhart said. "We were really familiar with what they did and were impressed with her program, so when this opportunity came up, we didn't hesitate. I think it's absolutely amazing what she's doing and the following she has. In as little as three weeks, we've have over 80 enrolled. It's mind-boggling."
Reinhart said Griffiths has the freedom to run the new school as she sees fit. In a Canton Repository interview in 2018, Griffiths said she emphasizes creative play — and no technology.
"Also, what really impresses me about her, she remembers children and parents and grandparents from years ago," Reinhart said. "It's amazing."
On May 5, more than 150 people turned out to honor Griffiths at a reception at the North Canton Civic Center. They included the Rev. Alston Hall, associate pastor at Westbrook Park UMC in 1969.
"At the time they introduced Suzanne, everyone stood up and applauded," Benny Griffiths said. "With the support of people we know and people we don't know, God's grace has led us to this opportunity to give back."
"It was like being at your own wake," she laughed.
'We are a team'
Benny Griffiths, a former cost analyst at Republic Steel in Massillon, said he switched to teaching in the 1970s as a result of seeing the positive impact his wife was having on children.
He acquired his teaching certificate from Malone University and became the first male elementary school teacher in North Canton City Schools, where he created a gifted-and-talented curriculum.
Griffiths also served as principal of L.J. Smith School in Massillon, and at Northwood School in North Canton, which has a scholarship in his name. He also taught three years at Walsh University.
"We're just here to be of service to the Lord," he said.
"My husband has been my rock," Suzanne Griffiths said. "We are a team."
Meanwhile, Griffiths and her husband have been hosting "home" church services on Sundays at the Barn in Monticello Estates. The gathering grew from 17 former Westbrook members.
"We were in such a hurt situation, we wanted to stay as a church family but we couldn't agree on which church to go," she explained.
The home church, which doesn't have a name, has grown to about 60 people. Money raised goes to help other local ministries and to cover the rent. There are plans to relocate to the Metropolitan Building in downtown Canton.
"At some point, we will have to have leadership," she said.
When people ask Griffiths why she's embarking on two new ventures at a time when most people are long retired, she laughingly cites what she believes was a message from God in the form of Psalms 92:14: "They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing."
"I said, 'I get it,'" she recalled. "It's so hard to explain. God doesn't call you to be perfect, he calls you to be faithful. He doesn't call the equipped; he equips the called. I hope we have followed God's plan for us."
To learn more about A+ Nursery School, call 330-639-6661.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP