Karen Huntington is retiring after 55 years of providing childcare to the families of Excelsior. In January 1962, Huntington first began to care for children in her home. For the next five decades she celebrated their birthdays, taught them their ABCs and walked with them every week to the Excelsior Bakery on Main Street for a cookie, until it closed, and the weekly ritual was redirected to Kowalski’s.
She’s looking forward to retirement and spending more time ice fishing with her husband, who retired in 1992. They are planning on monthlong visits with their daughter in California and more time out on the lake on their boat in the summer. But she knows that she will miss being with children every day.
“I need those little people around me,” Huntington says. “It just gets too quiet sometimes.” So she’s already planning to stay involved “a little bit.” She knows several parents who are schoolteachers. She takes care of their children on teacher workdays, for example. But, after 55 years, she’s done with full-time commitment. In all those years she says she can’t remember ever taking a sick day. Now she looks forward to reading more and just relaxing for a bit.
Huntington doesn’t hesitate when asked what motivated her to stay in the child care business for so long. “The parents were so kind, so generous, so thoughtful. They made it easy.” She remembers being at a fundraiser for Minnetonka schools a couple of years ago, when a couple whose children were part of her day care group were bidding on a playhouse. When their bid finally won, the father turned around and told her that it was for her. He said her little people needed one. “It made me cry,” she remembers. “That is a man with a big heart.”
Huntington worked with children for so many years that she eventually found herself taking care of children whose parents had once been some of her “little people.” She says she felt like she really became a grandma in some of those families.
Another enduring legacy are the friendships between the children that have lasted over years. There were two little girls who became best friends while in her care. They are now in college and still best friends.
Huntington says the biggest change she's seen since 1962 was the licensing of home day care and the rules that have been put in place. She welcomed the regulations when they came along.
“The rules were all things that anyone running a home day care should be doing, like making sure the fire extinguishers are up-to-date and other kinds of safety rules,” Huntington says. “And there were monthly classes that I had to attend. They were always very informative, and I learned a lot about working with different types of children, like children with special needs, for example. I always felt [the classes] were very helpful.”
Huntington spent five decades watching families grow and change, seeing children develop lifelong friendships and celebrating their birthdays. Now she has a lot of good memories to keep her company in her retirement.