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For the love of kids: Daycare provider in career with sweetest rewards

WORTHINGTON -- Paulette Bass said she could write a book with all of the cute, funny and just plain hilarious things kids say, but chances are she won't have time to work on it.

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Paulette Bass holds up the finger puppets that have been a popular activity for children in her in-home daycare in Worthington. Bass has been a daycare provider for 47 years and has no plans to retire anytime soon. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Paulette Bass said she could write a book with all of the cute, funny and just plain hilarious things kids say, but chances are she won’t have time to work on it.

After being a daycare provider in Worthington for 47 years, she has yet to make plans to retire. Perhaps she never will.

Yes, she loves her job that much.

It’s a good thing, considering the daycare shortage that exists in Worthington. Too few are choosing to make daycare a career, whether they see the paperwork as burdensome or the schedule too demanding.

Not a week goes by that Bass doesn’t get a call from a young couple looking for daycare options for their yet-to-arrive infant, or from a family in desperate need of a caretaker for their toddler.

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She’s had calls from families seeking daytime care, evening care and late night care - and as hard as it can be to say no, she’s said it more times than she cares to think about.

“Most of the time I don’t have any openings,” Bass said. “A lot of my families have called me a year ahead of when they’re planning to have kids, but it doesn’t always work.

“I probably get five to nine calls in a week. The other day I had three calls. Daycare is in high demand.”

For the many that hear a ‘no’ from Bass, she directs them to check with family services or the Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council.

“Most of the providers in town here are full because daycare is such a shortage,” Bass said.

While many of the families who rely on her for child care are from Worthington, she has one family from Iona, another from Brewster and a couple of families who live outside of town.

“I have one family that for 16 years she’s pulled into my driveway,” Bass said.

Her doors open to greet the pitter-patter of little feet and sleeping infants in carriers at 6:45 a.m. Monday through Friday. The door swings open after school with another small group of kids carrying backpacks and ready to tell MeMa (that’s what they all call her) about their day.

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The last of the children are scooted out the door by 5:45 p.m. by their parents, and seemingly all at once it’s quiet - perhaps the quietest it’s been in 12 hours.

“Then I’m cleaning up,” Bass said. “The day doesn’t end when they go out the door. That’s when you get your own life going.”

Bass has lived this busy lifestyle ever since she and her husband, Ron (the kids call him Papa), were married. She raised two sons right along with dozens of others, though never kept track of how many children she’s cared for over the years. A bracelet gifted to her about a decade into her career is filled with gold-colored charms in the shape of a child’s head. There are 84 charms filling the chain, each with a child’s name engraved on it.

When Bass first started daycare, it was just to take care of one family, but then it grew and grew … and grew.

“Back then, people just brought their kids over,” Bass shared.

One of eight children, Bass said she’s always looked after kids and taken care of them. If it wasn’t taking care of siblings, it was taking care of other children. She started babysitting when she was 12.

Bass simply loves children, and that’s why she does what she does.

“It’s not a job,” she said matter-of-factly. “Where else can you work where you get all the loves and kisses and get paid for them?

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“They’re just like my kids, for 9 or 10 hours of the day.”

Bass has been in the business for so long, she’s cared for generations of families. Among them is Jeff Linder, the head football coach at Minnesota West Community & Technical College. Bass now cares for his three children.

The daycare kids are always kind of awed when Jeff stops in, said Bass, smiling as she recalled times when he told the kids about sitting around the table eating the good food she’s prepared.

Many times she’s heard that she’s “The Best Cook!”

Apparently, the parents of her daycare kids have heard this as well, because she’s received phone calls with requests for recipes from time to time.

And whether they’re sitting around the table or playing with toys, Bass stresses good manners to all of her kids. They learn to say ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ when they burp.

With about a dozen kids to care for every day - between the ages of three months and nine years - Bass said the most rewarding part of her job is simply raising them.

It makes it tough when child graduates out of daycare, because they have felt like her children for so long.

“Sometimes they’ll sneak back here on the school bus when they’re supposed to be going home,” said Bass, who in 2004 was named Nobles County’s Daycare Provider of the Year.

She gets hugs in the grocery store and when some of her former daycare kids earn their driver’s license, they steer their car into her driveway to share the good news.

With her open plans for retirement, Ron went back to work after retiring from his job with the city of Worthington. He is a full-time driver for Sterling Long-term Care.

“Since the boss isn’t ready to retire, no sense in me sitting around doing nothing,” he said, adding that he enjoys being around the kids about as much as his wife - and the kids love Papa Ronnie.

Bass said her son chides her about her work, saying “You’ll be 99, sitting in your rocking chair with kids at your feet.”

“I have some (former daycare kids) saying they’re engaged now and ‘you know what that means,’” Bass said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to keep doing it.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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