Chicago area camp owner keeps it all in the family

The year was 1993. Lincolnshire native David Clatch was about to graduate from dental school. His wife, Karen, was a year away from doing the same. Then David’s father was killed in a car accident.

For the next year, David split his time between working as a dentist and helping his mother, Bonnie, run the family business: Poko Loko, an early childhood learning center in Glenview that she and David’s father opened in 1965 on borrowed money and a chance. David quickly realized that working with kids was his passion, and after Karen graduated from dental school, they both decided to change course and dedicate their careers to Poko Loko.

Fast forward to now, and the family business has grown to include Good Times––a summer day camp in the near north, far north and western suburbs––as well as Poko Loko locations in Wheeling, Libertyville and most recently, Morton Grove. David’s brother and his wife operate a few of the locations. David’s sister and her son run a Good Times in Wisconsin, with plans to open a Poko Loko there soon. Clearly, it’s a Clatch thing.

“The family connection is everything,” David said. “How cool will it be for my wife and me to be grandparents and watch our grandchildren grow up through Poko Loko and Good Times?”

Glenview residents for 20 years, David and Karen have four children of their own––David Jr., 20; Danny, 19; Madison, 16; and Fitz, 9. Each attended Poko Loko, and now they’re learning about the responsibilities of running a business, including holding summer jobs as Good Times counselors.

The family is gearing up for the camp’s 38th season of, well, very good times. Last summer’s program included cookouts, relays, egg tosses, kite-flying, water balloons, a field trip to Willis Tower and plenty of days at local swimming pools.

The camp accommodates a wide range of ages, and the goal is to let kids “get back to the basics of summer fun, games, sports and making friends,” David said. Most of the approximately 25 counselors were Good Times campers themselves years ago.

The sense of optimism that energizes the camp also runs through Poko Loko’s vibrant, colorful walls. Specializing in infant and toddler daycare, preschool, and kindergarten education, Poko Loko offers full- and half-day programs with a theme-based curriculum that prepares the child for grade school, both academically and socially.

With an average tenure of 15 years, Poko Loko’s staff of about 50 is the program’s foundation, David says.

“My staff is incredible. They are like family,” he said. “They love what they do, and they share their love with all their students.”

Over 20 years later, David says he has no regrets walking away from dentistry.

“I love working with my wife and my mother, and I love the diversity my job offers,” he said. “Our approach to both businesses is very simple: Work hard, love what you do and spread that love to our students and campers.”

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