Great Bend’s Clara Niedens recently retired after nearly a half century doing something she did not originally intend to make a career of doing, but wound up having a passion for – caring for multiple generations of the area’s children like they were her own kids.
One of the things that kept her doing it for as long as she did is advice she received early on, and that is approaching it with a parent’s mindset.
“I love kids,” she said. “Everybody said, ‘just treat those kids like they were your own,’ and that’s what I did.”
That philosophy served her well. Niedens said after almost 50 years of childcare she could not estimate the number of children she cared for over the years. She can remember almost every one of the kids she cared for, however.
Niedens has even cared for multiple generations within families, the children of some of the children she cared for early on.
Niedens began her childcare career in January 1972, when a friend who was a registered nurse approached her seeking childcare for a child who was close in age to Niedens’ own son, Lyle, her third child.
She was reluctant at first, she said, but agreed to watch the friend’s child.
“She said, ‘Well, just give it a try,’ and I did, and from there it just took off,” Niedens said.
Once she began doing childcare, she said, she never advertised services, but her day-care service grew by word-of-mouth. Her capacity was 10-12 children at a time, and Niedens said she recalled always being at full capacity.
At the time she started, she had been working for a bank in Russell. There were times early on when she considered going back to work outside the home, but she enjoyed the work she did with her day-care kids, as well as the additional family time the work afforded her to be home with her own children, which was important to her.
Though it was not what she originally planned, because of her love for her own kids, and the kids she watched, she feels now like childcare was her called profession.
She said she developed good relationships with both the parents and the kids she watched. Almost all the kids she watched, she said, came to her as infants and stayed until they started school.
“I always had good parents,” she said.
Although it was a career and she needed to charge enough to make a living, she said she always tried to work with parents, because she knew how much parents needed the income, and she wanted to take as little away from that income as possible.
Because she saw the kids she cared for as her own, one of the things she said she always did was to prepare meals for the kids from scratch, a personal touch she felt was important, and was a hit with the kids she cared for.
She said she would have kids come back later saying they did not want to eat the school food, “because it wasn’t like Clara’s.”
“I always enjoyed what I did for (the kids), and I enjoyed them being happy,” she said. “They were sweet kids.”