In the mid-1960s, the Ursuline Sisters of Paola came together with community members, parents and friends to advance the need to build a school for children with special needs in Paola. The Ursuline Sisters generously donated 32 acres of land and Mother M. Charles McGrath led the charge to get funding to build the school. With approval from the Lakemary Board of Directors and help from community members, McGrath applied for federal funding and secured a federal grant which was matched by the locally supported industrial revenue bonds.
Construction of the school and main campus took two years to complete. In 1969, Lakemary Center was turned over to the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, who operated the facility. On March 21, 1970, Lakemary officially opened with Kansas Senator Bob Dole and Governor Robert Docking attending dedication ceremonies. That same year, Lakemary sent 14 students to the first Kansas Special Olympics.
Over the next 10 years, Lakemary became accredited as a special purpose elementary-high school and expanded its services to include occupational therapy, vocational, and job placement. The volunteer program was also established, and the Lakemary Center Endowment Association was officially chartered.
As children aged and eventually graduated from Lakemary School, it seemed natural and vital to add services for adults. The adult program launched in 1982 with the building of two adult group homes in Paola called Sunrise Acres. In 1986, the vocational program expanded to include job training and adult living skills. Before the 80s were over, Lakemary became accredited by The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
The 90s brought a decade of incredible growth and change. A new swimming pool was added on the Paola main campus and two new group homes were built in Olathe, expanding Lakemary’s supervised apartment living services to include both Miami and Johnson counties. In 1992, Patrice Schmitz Hall retired after 22 years as Lakemary’s first president/CEO, and William R. Craig was selected to be the next leader of the organization. That same year, Lakemary received quite an honor being selected as the best facility of the year by the Kansas Special Olympics program. In 1994, Lakemary adopted a new logo and made an organizational change to focus on two major service programs: children and adult services. That same year, the Kansas Department of Education accredited Lakemary as both a public and private institution, enabling our ability to serve children with behavior disorders. In 1995, the Johnson County Service Center opened as a satellite office to provide Adult Employment and Day Services, and Lakemary celebrated its 25th anniversary with a benefit concert featuring Dave Brubeck and the Kansas City Symphony. In 1996, the state approved Lakemary as a provider of dual diagnosis services, allowing us to enhance our services provided to children. Two years later, Supported Family Living (Specialized Foster Care) services were added.
Lakemary continued to grow as the world entered the 21st century. Lakemary School added 40 new education staff and secured substantial new funding sources through transferring its partnership in Special Education Cooperative from Baldwin to Paola School District #368. In 2003, President/CEO William R. Craig was elected President of InterHab (Resource Network for Kansans With Disabilities) and Lakemary was awarded the “School of Excellence” certificate following its Quality Performance Accreditation for third consecutive year. A new 11,000 square foot gymnasium opened on the Paola main campus and was named Founder’s Fieldhouse in honor of the founding families of Lakemary. In 2005, Lakemary students earned a proud accomplishment when their state assessment scores met the Standard of Excellence in seven criteria. In 2007, Lakemary’s children’s services became CARF-accredited and licensed as a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility. Before the end of another decade, a corporate wellness program was established for Lakemary employees, a new Adult Day Services facility was opened in Paola and Lakemary celebrated its 40th anniversary by hosting a Friends and Families Reunion.
Funds from a successful capital campaign were used in 2011 to renovate and expand the Paola main campus, including the most notable additions of the Craig Center, the Discovery Center and the Bob Dole Family Center. After 22 years of leading the organization, William R. Craig retired, and Gianna Gariglietti became the third President/CEO of Lakemary. The Careers & More program was launched in 2016 in cooperation with MidAmerica Nazarene University, providing the adults we serve with opportunities for college-level classes and job training. A year later, a gorgeous red barn was built on the Paola main campus and Lakemary Ranch was established to provide new therapy options for the individuals we serve. Therapeutic dogs, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and a pony have since become part of the program. In 2017, the Lakemary brand was refreshed and resulted in a simplified website address and the logo we use today.
Today, Lakemary continues to innovate and grow in order to provide the highest quality of care to the individuals we serve. Our national reach is notably strong with children from 18 different states residing in our PRTF program. In 2019, Lakemary celebrated its 50th Anniversary by hosting an open house at the Paola main campus. Over 350 guests attended, and it was a wonderful opportunity for the community to see our growth over the years and learn more about the important work we do.
Our Executive Team and Board of Directors are proud of the accomplishments we have achieved over the past 50 years, and they are focused on strategically leading Lakemary into the next half century.