Troy woman honored for helping kids learn about nature

Julia Hobart of Troy is now richer in spirit and money after winning the Elizabeth Abernathy Hull Award from the Garden Club of America (GCA).

According to the GCA’s website, “the Elizabeth Abernathy Hull Award, named for a member of the Ridgefield Garden Club, is given to individuals involved in the early environmental education of children.” The prize is $1,000.

Hobart has definitely done this with her work over the past 60-plus years. Hobart founded the Overfield Nursery School in 1960 specifically for her children and others. The first class of 12 children met in the Overfield Museum. The museum, which once housed a tavern, was built in 1808. Hobart was drawn to the site due to a large maple tree in front of the building.

According to Beth Poronsky, program lead and the Overfield School, “She (Hobart) would later convey that she knew that this (maple tree) alone signaled it would be a wonderful place to start the school — under the shade and fruitful learning environment of a stately tree. She has always recognized the importance of nature in children’s lives.”

The school was located in the museum until 1988. The number of children attending continued to grow. According to the school’s website, “When the school received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children in 1988, the Hobart Brothers Company saw fit to offer the Edward and Martha Hobart house and grounds as the school’s new home.”

The new home for the school made it easy for Hobart to add many more activities encouraging the children to explore nature. Poronsky also said, “it has always been encouraged and expected that children would be outside exploring this land, coming to know the names of the plants and animals, living in rhythm with the seasons and learning from the unique gifts of all kinds of weather.”

The campus continued to grow when the Hobart family donated 84 acres of adjoining land to the Miami County Park District. The campus continues to grow and change with Hobart’s vision always in the forefront. The school now includes students from preschool age to third grade. The staff now consists of 20-plus naturalists, teachers and support staff.

Many parents who took their children to the Overfield School over the years showed much support for Hobart in numerous nomination letters for the Hull award. One parent, Stacey R. Earhart, described how the school helped her daughter in one of the letters.

“As a parent of three Overfield alumni and board trustee for 15 years, I will contend the impact Julia has had on generations of families, both children and parents alike, in instilling the importance of developing a connection to the outdoors and respect for the environment beginning at an early age is unsurpassed. At Overfield, the outdoor classroom is as important if not more important than the indoor. Children as young as 2 years old are immersed in observing, recording, studying, interpreting, questioning and analyzing every living creature, plant and tree on the school campus,” she wrote in the letter.

Gracey Weisbrod, a member of The Garden Club of Dayton and another parent, said that school quickly became popular and that many expecting mothers were contacting Hobart in order to save spots for their soon-to-be-born children. For Weisbrod, Hobart did just that and her daughter began attending Overfield in 1974. Weisbrod describes her daughter Kathy’s experiences in her nomination letter.

“Today my daughter, Kathy has fond memories of ‘Overfield.’ She remembers making very good friends there and remembers the school as a warm, inviting, and fun place. Kathy said, ‘I always felt very special and cool that I went to school in the log cabin. But it’s the feelings that I remember most. All was very positive, so I felt empowered and good about myself. The teachers instilled values that not only included respect for others but respect for the world around us. There was an ‘of course this is what we do’ spirit. Conservation and appreciation of the natural world IS respecting others; the two go hand in hand. Captured at a critical time, we gained an appreciation that was assimilated and ingrained in us for life,” Weisbrod wrote in her nomination letter.

It is because of Hobart that the school’s vision to expose children to nature and encourage them to be inquisitive, curious, inventive and connected to their community. According to the school’s website, “At Overfield, we believe learning is about the whole child. Children have the opportunity at Overfield to develop fluency in many languages: movement, sculpture, drawing, outdoor investigation, music, speaking, listening, reading, writing. We know that intellectual growth and readiness, for school and life, comes from inspired curiosity and a healthy respect for fluency in all the languages of childhood.”

For more information about the school, visit

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