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Hemmert retires from Head Start

submitted photo Linda Hemmert (far left) is shown during a recent trip with her class to Prairie Elementary.

WORTHINGTON -- After 18 eventful years at Head Start, Linda Hemmert is finally closing a chapter in her life -- the teaching chapter.

Working with little people -- as she refers to her 4-year-old students -- was not something Hemmert knew she wanted to do all along.

She started a family at a young age. Hemmert's husband, Roy, was in the Air Force, which resulted in their family moving around frequently until finally relocating to Minnesota.

With an empty nest after her youngest daughter, Amy, left for college, Hemmert wanted to do something more. After all, she was only in her late 30s.

"At that time, I knew I wanted to work with family and children," she said, adding she had worked various jobs while her children were younger, including running a day care from home.

It was then she decided to enroll at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Two years later, she graduated alongside Amy with an associate's degree in early childhood/human services.

"I knew there had to be something more for me to do with my life," said Hemmert, who has two other children, Shawna and Roy Jr.

The first and only job to which she applied for after graduation was Head Start, a national pre-school program with income guidelines for families.

In 1994, Hemmert started teaching 3-year olds in the home-based program. She conducted weekly home visits, but met with the youths twice or three times a month in the classroom.

"I wanted to do more hand-on work with them," she said, explaining after four years, she switched to the center-based program.

The center-based program caters to 4-year-olds who meet three times a week in the classroom and once at home with Hemmert, accompanied by their parents.

"At home visits, my job is to teach parents how to work with their child," she said. "I bring health, safety and nutrition things, but I also show them role-modeling."

Family dynamics, she said, are crucial to a child's development. Hemmert has met various families in the 18 years of home visits.

"I've worked with split families and whole families. I've met with foster care and family services," she said. "The job gets stressful, but it has been so rewarding."

Through her years of working with preschoolers, Hemmert learned that patience and a good sense of humor goes a long way.

"There really isn't a magic trick," she said. "They are not just kids. They're little people and we need to give them respect."

Hemmert admitted she has her fair share of bad days, but she still has to "put on her happy face" in the classroom.

She remembered the day she received a call from the hospital notifying her that her husband was diagnosed with fourth stage of bladder cancer.

"I still had to put a smile on my face when I went back into the classroom," she said. "The children always come with up with something to keep you in line."

Roy has since had his bladder removed and is back to work at Kruse Motors.

"I always thought he'd retire before me," she said with a laugh. "But he's glad that I can now watch TV with him without paperwork scattered everywhere."

With her last day next week approaching fast, Hemmert is looking forward to enjoying her summer days without having to conduct home visits and recruit students for the new year.

"I'll definitely miss the kids, so I might come back to sub or just to read to them," she said.

Another aspect of her job she is already feeling nostalgic about is the experience with families. Parents she has worked with are now friends she recognizes on the street.

"I remember when the African community first moved here, I didn't know about their culture," she said. "They made food, invited me over and we ate together. It was just awesome."

After next week, she will be spending time with her family. She and Roy have seven grandchildren and a great-grandson.

"When you work, you don't realize there's a whole other world out there that's not working," she said. "They're visiting or shopping, and I think I could get used to that."

Daily Globe Reporter Ana Anthony may be reached at 376-7321.