She’s not a movie star, but she’s come close

Carolyn McGowan has lived a storied life. From teacher to theater, McGowan and her husband have been a fixture in the Webb City area for many years.

Sam Burnside | Contributer

Carolyn McGowan has lived a storied life. From teacher to theater, McGowan and her husband have been a fixture in the Webb City area for many years.

Carolyn McGowan’s office in the historic Unity Building in downtown Webb City is a whirlwind of cigarette ashes, stacks of paperwork, interesting people, and several statuettes of Pinocchio—the puppet that magically turns into a real boy. This is nothing less than McGowan’s personality.

“My angle goes back to my childhood, when I was a little girl. You know how everybody asks, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Well, I always said two things … I would like to be a movie star and I would like to own an orphanage. And though I have not accomplished either of those things in my life, what I have done is pretty close,” McGowan said.

McGowan was a public school teacher for 11 years, and she owned a private preschool for 25 years.

McGowan started teaching in Kansas City.

She taught there for three years before she decided to stay home when her children were born.

“I wanted to stay home and raise my children to make sure they would be democrats–they could have ended up with a Republican baby-sitter,” said McGowan.

McGowan was a stay-at-home mother until her children were enrolled in school, then she went back to teaching.

“I taught for about six more years, and I wound up very angry because my husband (who owned his own business) was making three times what I was making and I had a master’s degree and he didn’t,” she said.

“He said, ‘I’ll support you for one year, and you decide what you want to do. I told him to forget it because I had already signed my contract with the school,” McGowan added.

Upon hearing this, McGowan’s husband sat her down and fixed her several large gin and tonics.

“After the third drink, he brought me paper and pen and I wrote my resignation.”

Before her year was up in 1982, McGowan already knew the type of business she wanted to operate.

She got together with two friends, a dance teacher and a music teacher, and they decided to open a performing-arts preschool.

For a facility, McGowan and her husband sold their house and purchased a large historic building in downtown Webb City.

After much renovation, it was a ready money-maker. (The building is equipped with several apartments.)

The team decided the name of the school should have alliteration, and after ruling out Perverted Preschool, they decided the name Pinocchio Preschool had a nice sound to it and could possibly lend itself to many fun activities.

McGowan boasts, “Everything [the students] learned–colors, numbers, alphabet, the days of the week, everything–they sang … and they remembered it. It was a great preschool.”

McGowan and her successful school did not go unnoticed.

“The Webb City school district hired me to write their preschool curriculum,” she said.

About six years ago McGowan decided she was too old to work such long hours, and she retired from teaching preschool.

What about the movie-star part of her childhood dream?

“Well, I’m a big cut-up, a ham, and I like to make people laugh, so I’ve done community theater for over forty years,” she said.

When she was a child, both of her parents were heavily involved in community theater. Her father was also a radio personality.

“Theater is in my blood,” said McGowan.

McGowan got her start at the Joplin Little Theater because of the talent she possesses when it comes to working with children.

“They knew that I had a yearly performance for the preschool kids, so they asked me if I would do the children’s theater program in the summer at the Joplin Little Theater,” she said.

“Since then, I have performed and directed in over fifty shows … I’ve been a performer, a director, a costumer, I started the children’s acting workshop, and I’ve been on the board of directors for the theater about three times.”

McGowan has two sons and several grandchildren, all of whom are involved in theatrics in some fashion.