When you meet Ginger Leach, you are immediately drawn to her stature and her calming welcome. This reporter experienced that in 1989 when she knocked on my door and offered me a kind welcome and a loaf of lemon poppy seed bread.
Ginger has been welcoming, caring and teaching the children of Askov for almost 44 years. She recently retired from Gingerbread Daycare, a busy home site that has raised generations of our area youth. We sat together at the dining table where Ginger set out one of her photo books of the children she has cared for over the years. As we turn the photo pages, the names and stories come to the surface. It has been a rich legacy of loving and caring for children and as we talk tears come to her eyes. She will miss the rhythm of her home filled with little ones, yet she is looking forward to retirement with her husband Brian and spending time with her four granddaughters and four grandsons, ranging from age 5-19.
Ginger started her daycare in 1977. When I queried how she notified people, it was mostly a small ad ($1.50) in the Askov American, plus some word of mouth. Ginger had one daughter at the time, Stephanie. Ginger and Brian decided Ginger would stay home and care for their children, so the daycare was a perfect fit for her. The first child to enter the daycare was Holly (Petersen) Taylor, followed by the Hultman boys, Ross and Todd. It did not take long for the reputation of her loving care to spread. Ginger had as many as fourteen children at her daycare. Her day would begin at 5:30 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m. She made the children breakfast, midmorning snack, lunch and afternoon snack each day. Her home was a safe shelter where children were taught manners, ABCs and potty training. A long list of children note they learned to ride a two wheel bike in her yard. Others recall fond memories of sand box play and swings. Children often referred they were going to “Gingers”. It was more like another home than simply a daycare, one adult noted.
There were tough days at the daycare during the years. Ginger had a two week trial where she would welcome the children to make certain it was a good fit for both child and provider. It was rarely the case. One of the local children, now an adult, offered that they knew Ginger was consistent and she made me behave. He always felt secure knowing that Ginger was always there for him. Ginger was often in the midst of parental divorce or difficult financial times with parents. She states that sometimes she felt a bit like a counselor or teacher of parent skills. “To be a daycare provider, you have to love your job. It is not easy, with not great pay, but the impact and rewards on these little ones are priceless.”
Ginger never had to report a child protection case nor was she ever indicted at her daycare. For 44 years she taught school, manners and caring for all living things. Her home was a place to share and explore their hopes and dreams; a safe place to talk about the difficult things like life and death. She pauses at the photos of each of the five children, the five young people that died in their youth. She shares that attending their funerals was deeply saddening. These children spent days and years in her care. Sometimes they would slip and call her mom/mommy.
In an approximate summation, I discovered Ginger cared for children for 11.5 hours /day, 5 days a week and 50 weeks a year settling somewhere around 126,500 hours. Then we have to add the average number per day arriving at an astronomical number of 1,518,000 hours of raising the children in our community! In her years she had four set of twins, large families of children and best friends were formed. She is delighted to be invited to milestones such as graduations, weddings and other significant days. “The bonds last” she says, ‘I am forever bonded to these little ones no matter how old they are.”
Perhaps one of her favorite title is “Best Cooker.” This story hails back to little Jimmy Koslowski (now almost 40 years old). Jim was eating lunch and paused to look at Ginger. His innocent, sweet face was so sincere. He looked at her and said, “You are the best cooker!” Ginger is ashamed to note that she was simply making Macaroni and Cheese from the box. It was not about the food, but rather about the loving care she doled out to all in her care. The title has stuck as countless children in her daycare refer her to Best Cooker.
“Kids are like flowers, they start out so little and then they grow and turn beautiful. Remember to be a kid sometimes, to love and watch their creativity,” Ginger closes. The toys are gone and the house feels different, even to me. She now sleeps in later than 5 a.m. She no longer has to do grocery shopping for all those kids on every Saturday. Yet, it is a very different pattern and the house is strangely quiet, not the norm. Back in 2005 Ginger was recognized as one of Women of Askov at the Askov Rutabaga Festival. The reporter changed the clause that says “it takes a village to raise a child” to “It Takes a Ginger to raise the Village.” She was also awarded daycare provider of the year for Pine County in 2004.
Whatever accolades or awards are bestowed, Ginger will continue to be the recipient and reflection of the love and care she gave to the littlest of people. Certainly her legacy of caring for the children of our area deserves deepest gratitude.