Woman provided daycare from her home for 57 years
By Scott Thoma
To say Sue Iverson enjoys being around children would be a huge understatement. After all, the Willmar woman operated a day-care service for 57 years before retiring this past June.
“I have always loved children,” she said, stating the obvious. “I had been doing this for so long that I cared for multiple generations of families. I’ve even cared for four generations of one family.”
Iverson still proudly displays a sign in the front entry of her home in the southwest portion of town that reads: “Grandma Sue’s Daycare Service. Little people always welcome. Service includes: meals, lessons, entertainment and lots of hugs. Tender loving care for your most precious possessions.”
Iverson started her childcare service when she was only 19 years old.
“When we (she and her late husband, Roger) started our own family, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother,” she explained. “This was the best way to stay home with my child and make a little money, too.”
She quickly learned how much she enjoyed caring for children and knew this was something she wanted to do. She was eventually licensed by Kandiyohi County as a childcare provider in 1976.
“I didn’t expect to do it for this many years, but I enjoyed every day,” said Iverson, who has four children, 11 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren of her own.
When she first began working as a childcare provider in 1967, Iverson made 75 cents per hour (per child). The rate didn’t escalate to match inflation rate, however. Prior to retiring, Iverson was only making a little over $2 per hour. She also gets reimbursed for meals.
“It’s not all about the money,” she insisted. “It’s about making sure the children are cared for, keeping them on the right track, and building relationships with them and their families.”
Iverson wore a myriad of hats over the years in her job. She was a second mother and grandmother to many of the children. She also was a chef, counselor, entertainer, comforter, and a friend to the children and families.
“I couldn’t have done this without the support of my husband,” she said. “He hauled kids to school and was like a second father to some of the kids. He had a lot of patience and cared for all the kids we had here. Our own children accepted these kids like brothers and sisters, too.”
Iverson, who grew up on a farm outside of Cosmos, spent many hours of her life looking after children. For seven of the 57 years, Iverson offered 24-hour childcare service. Those working evening or weekend shifts such as single-parent medical and law enforcement personnel, would utilize her service.
To make sure the 12 children (limit set by the county) enjoyed their time under her guidance, Iverson would make projects with them or make sure they were always entertained in some way.
“It was too hard to bring the kids to different places so I would have visitors come to my house,” she said. “We had a Western Day one time and I brought in Misty & Friends Zoo from Dassel. The kids all wore cowboy hats and they got to ride on a pony. The zoo brought in a lot of other animals, too, like rabbits, llamas, ducks, porcupine and a pot-bellied pig. We had a great time.”
Iverson also arranged for the Willmar Fire Department to bring in a fire truck and teach the kids about fire safety. The bear mascot of the Willmar Stingers baseball team also visited the kids.
During holidays, Iverson would interact with the children in making Christmas ornaments and cards, turkeys and hats for Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day gifts, holding Easter egg hunts, or by going sledding.
“I’m also proud of the fact that none of the kids I cared for ever had an injury of any sort,” she said.
Following county and state nutrition guidelines, Iverson prepared two meals a day for the kids, plus an afternoon snack.
Most of her extra efforts went unnoticed by the county and state, although she was selected Childcare Provider of the Year in 2000 at a banquet in the Twin Cities.
A lot goes into being a childcare provider other than just taking care of the children.
“You have to stay up to date on everything,” Iverson explained. “There is a lot of paperwork and regulations involved with the county. I had to follow mealtime guidelines, learn CPR and First Aid, hold fire and tornado drills, and a lot of other things.”
Iverson always tried to be a positive influence on the children she cared for. One of the boys she once cared for was hearing impaired, so Iverson learned sign language in order to be able to communicate with him.
“There is so much negative in the world so I would always try to bring out at least one good thing for a child each day,” she said. “I would say things like your hair looks so pretty or you did such a good job cleaning off the table. Kids don’t always hear those things.”
The children she cared for meant so much to her that she even had a Christmas card made with all of them. She was dressed as Mrs. Claus in the photo. Santa’s sleigh next to them was built by her father.
“I loved and cared for every one of them,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I miss them all.”
At one point during her childcare career, Iverson had a diverse group of children that included four or five nationalities.
“That was the best year I had,” she said with a smile. “I learned so much from the kids about their cultures. All the kids got along very well, too.”
Iverson always wanted families to know that their children would always have a safe and clean place to go to where they would have fun and it would feel like home to them.
Iverson continually runs into one of the children she used to care for in a store or some other place.
“It means a lot to me when they tell me how much they enjoyed having me take care of them,” she said. “Recently, I saw one of the kids I used to have here. He is now all grown up, and he told me I was a special lady to him and treated him and his sister like a mother and my husband treated them like a father. That meant so much to me. I still miss my job. I loved the kids and built some super good friendships.”