Pat Lyle stands with her husband Tom Lyle. The couple founded Pioneer Playschool in 1972 in Bluff Park. Photo courtesy of Pat Lyle.
For Tom Lyle, life was an adventure meant to be savored.
There was the summer he decided to dye mashed potatoes red and blue for the Fourth of July. He wrapped an inner tube around his head and had children make potatoes balls to throw at him.
There were the times he took the kids on rides through the neighborhood in his remodeled fire truck and later a limousine that transported them to Star Lake and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
Memories are countless for all the families whose lives were touched by how Tom, the founder of Pioneer Playschool in Bluff Park, lived with the excitement of a child.
“If you love your job, you never go to work a day in your life, and that’s how he saw it,” his wife, Pat Lyle, said. “He got up early every today excited to go to Pioneer. He worked sun up to sun down for 41 years.”
“He was such a good father to me,” his daughter Stephanie Rye said. “He worked hard and took care of us. He was always entertained because he was like a big kid himself.”
On. Nov. 6, Tom passed away at age 74. He was a lifelong resident of Birmingham and a member of Bluff Park United Methodist Church. He raised his family in Hoover, where he was known for running a truly one-of-a-kind daycare.
Tom and Pat founded Pioneer Playschool in 1972 on three and a half acres of shaded property in the Bluff Park community. Tom had a passion for designing cars and had made plans to move to Detroit. However, the family’s life route changed and decided to open a pioneer-themed daycare that could offer creative opportunities to all children including their son who had special needs. The daycare officially opened its doors in March 1972.
“We wanted it to be like going to grandma’s and grandpa’s,” Pat said. “Tom worked tirelessly seven days a week to get it built. He built fire houses, ball fields, swings, slides, just all things that kids love.”
In the years that followed the family-run daycare saw generations of children who enjoyed Tom’s inventive games and outdoor play. Pat remembers having to fix supper later and later because Tom could not tear himself away from work.
“He was so driven to make it the best daycare it could possibly be,” she said.
In 1996, Tom developed a rare blood disease and beat the odds, receiving stem cells from his brother. He also received bone marrow transplants. It was a success, and he came back to work.
In 2012, tragedy struck when Pat and Tom lost their son, Jim, in a choking accident.
“Tom was devastated and it really took a toll on his health,” said Pat.
In 2013, Tom was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. He fought a hard battle until he passed away.
Today, Stephanie and Pat said it’s not unusual for people who are passing through the area to stop by and say they remember going to the school as children. People often refer to their days spent at the playschool as some of the best of their lives.
“Tom touched the lives of thousands of kids over his 41 years at Pioneer,” Pat said. “I’m sure how I speak for everyone when I say, we will miss you and love you Mr. Tom.”
David and Stephanie Rye, along with Pat, are the current directors of Pioneer Play School. For more information about the school, visit pioneerplayschool.comhttp://pioneerplayschool.com