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Jellema retires after 47 years and 157 children

Lead Summary
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Mavis Fodness

A request from a friend back in 1976 led Marilyn Jellema of Hills to a 47-year profession.
Jellema had a desire to stay home with her daughter, Jodi, when friend Nelva Behr asked if she was interested in watching another child.
Behr and her husband, Ron, just had daughter Amy.
“We were blessed with Jodi and I wanted to stay home and that was made possible by bringing in Amy,” Jellema recalled. “And so, on March 1, 1976, I started — not knowing that I would stay for 47 years.”
Jellema, 72, closed her day care Dec. 29, having chosen three years earlier not to renew her state license and officially retire.
“You just know when it is time,” she said.
A total of 157 children came to the Jellema home on a full-time basis and became “family” to Jellema and her husband, Jim.
The children (several of whom have had their own children cared for by Jellema) are still welcomed visitors to the home on the corner of South Anna Avenue and East Third Street.
“I ran my day care under the philosophy that I treated any child that came through the door as I wanted someone to treat my kids, Jodi and Wade,” she said. “They were treated as a family — all the kids that ever came here are called ‘my kids.”
‘Day care mom’ not a ‘day care provider’
To many of the “kids,” the Jellemas became “Nana” and “Papa,” after Jodi married Chris Harnack and the couple’s sons, Easton and Brock, came to the day care, where one word was never used to describe Marilyn.
“I don’t like being called a day care provider,” she said. “A day care mom but not a provider.”
Her day care ran on a tight schedule in order to get the school-aged children on and off buses and keep the infant and toddlers occupied during her operation hours of 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
She read stories, completed crafts, taught basic reading and math skills, and saw to it that the children were polite to one another, which Jellema said is among proudest moments of her career.
“Watching the kids grow, watching them learn, watching them be kind to one another,” she listed.
“Like now you go to ball games and you see that some of the little ones still seek out those older ones and go and sit by them — they are still best friends,” Jellema said. “You go to weddings and see the people in the wedding party are day care people that they grew up with.”
The Jellemas are often seen surrounded by their kids as they attend community events or Hills-Beaver Creek Secondary School events.
Kids have lasting friendships with Jellema
Knitting is one of Jellema’s passions, and as a retiree she dedicates one day a week meeting with friends who call themselves the “Happy Hookers.”
She also knits with one of her kids, Laney Top, 10, who’s dedicating the next eight years (until she graduates from H-BC) knitting regularly with Jellema.
“Laney said, ‘I’m going to hang with you until you’re 80, and then you’re on your own,’” Jellema said with a laugh.
Years ago, Jellema began making and donating tiny baby blankets to the neonatal intensive care units in Sioux Falls.
The first blanket went to her kid Sage DeBoer, who surprised her parents by arriving weeks before her due date. Jellema’s blankets allowed the various medical equipment to be easily placed between the hand-knitted pattern.
All of Jellema kids receive baby blankets when they decide to start their own families.
With the good times also come the bad
Through the years, Jellema has shared in the joy of adding another kid to the day care, the anguish in the adult deaths of three former kids (Carrie Nelson, Chris Nath and Matt Feucht), prayed with others when they were troubled, and offered support after accidents such as the one where former day care kid Trenton Bass was paralyzed in high school.
“We were at the football game where the accident happened,” Jellema said. “I always have a pit in my stomach because I just felt bad for him.”
Recently Jellema’s sad feeling was lessened when Bass and his wheelchair were carried up the steps in order to enter the former place of his childhood care. He stated, “Like old times. God is good.”
“When he said that, the feeling went away and I knew he was going to be OK because I heard it from him. He is an amazing person,” Jellema said.
Career choice was a good decision
Choosing a career in family day care is one that Jellema never regretted.
“In the world we are living in, you have to have health insurance and 401Ks are huge,” she said. “With a home day care you don’t have any of this. I like to say my 401K are memories.
“Day care is a great profession, but you have to like kids. You can’t do it for the money — never do it for the money.”
Instead Jellema focused on what she could give the kids.
“If there is one thing you can do in your life that can change one thing in someone else’s life, it is a success,” she said.
Four handwritten papers are tucked into Jellema’s Bible. The names of all 157 kids are listed in the order of their arrival at Jellema’s day care.
The list starts with Jellema’s daughter and ends with Scout Wiertzema, who was 11 months at Jellema’s retirement party on Jan. 8.
No. 2 Amy Behr holds a special place as the child who started the day care.
“It is a great feeling to hear that I started the best career she could have asked for,” Behr said.
As with the 156 kids who followed her, Behr recognizes Jellema’s positive impacts in her life.
“She was always there to cheer me on, whatever that may have been, from sports to music concerts,” Behr said. “To this day it is great to spend time catching up with her, and she is always welcoming me to come visit anytime.”

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