A Kenwood childcare stalwart retires

Katie Kephart wraps up 36 years of service

After 36 years of rambunctious children, Ramen noodle lunches, naptime, and rooms covered with toys and puzzles, Kenwood resident Katie Kephart retired from her in-home daycare last month.

Her childcare journey began when a neighbor went back to work and needed someone to watch her daughter, then by word, of mouth it turned into a full-time job – Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m.- for more than three decades.

“I didn’t look at it as a school, I looked at it more as a socializing thing,” said Peter Gross, a South Minneapolis resident whose daughter Alice attended Kephart’s daycare a few mornings a week until she started kindergarten.

“She was really good at letting the kids interact and not being all over them, telling them what to do or how to do things. They learned a lot of skills of how to cope with each other.”

Six-year-old Alice agreed, saying, “I made some of my best friends there.”

A typical day for Kephart and kids included breakfast with the early arrival and a full morning of puzzles, coloring and Play-Doh. After a noon lunch of hot dogs, pancakes or grilled cheese, the afternoon was filled with games outside, naptime and television, although that didn’t come on until after 5 p.m.

Kephart used the upstairs bedrooms of her kid-proof home for babies and naptime, while the main floor was the children’s domain. On nice days, the fenced-in backyard was used for rousing games of tag and hide-and-seek or playing with balls.

“One of the things they learn here is to play on their own,” Kephart said. “It’s good for kids to learn how to make their own fun.”

Kephart says she hasn’t changed her daycare style or schedule since she started. “I did back then what I do now,” Kephart said. “The kids are learning to socialize, just learning to get along and share toys and get away from their houses for a while.”

Most of the time was spent playing, rather than being taught or scolded.

“I would help the older kids with their homework but not the younger kids,” Kephart said. “There is plenty of time for learning, but this is the time to learn to get along with other kids.”

Russ Christensen, whose son Erich has Down syndrome, stayed with the Kepharts for 12 years, said Katie was an “equal opportunity force for the community Š [she was] ahead of her time.” Christensen remembers Katie saying, “Young people need to know Erich, and Erich needs to know other young people.”

“He one time threw the toothpaste out of the bathroom window onto the roof,” Christensen said. “He also broke a dining room window, but Katie was enormously professional about that and made it such a learning experience. It was an opportunity to socialize Erich. He became more trusting of other people, people of his age, also of animals, because they had a turtle and a variety of cats.”

In addition to the daycare kids, Kephart has shared her house with husband Les, a retired school psychologist, and their three now-grown children.

“As my kids got older and were in school, it was hard for them,” Kephart said. “They wanted to go to their rooms, but there were cribs in there. It was sometimes hard to give up their room for a crib with a sleeping kid in there.” Kephart described Les as comic relief when things got stressful and said she’ll miss the lively household her daycare created.

Although the daycare’s gone, the kids aren’t.

With her children now grown, Kephart has grandchildren that she spends a lot of time with, ensuring retirement will come with squeals and giggles.

Also, one of the joys of her business is when older kids stop by to say hello on their own. The affection seems mutual, evident by the graduation announcements from former daycare children hanging on Kephart’s refrigerator.

Kenwood resident Patty Hoolihan’s 18-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son spent many mornings and afternoons with Kephart as young children. “They still love to drop by to visit her once in awhile because they both have very fond memories of their times there and a fondness for Katie,” Hoolihan said.

While Kephart is looking forward to her free time – and a clean house – the change doesn’t come without a little

sentimentality.

“I think it keeps you young to have kids around,” Kephart said. “It gives you patience and just sort of a broad understanding of families and kids. You can’t be around them and be uptight and compulsive. You bend and become very adaptable out of necessity.”