HESSTON — More than 40 years of Judy Friesen's life have been dedicated to child care, but her career will end on May 31, when she retires after 35 years as director of Hesston Community Child Care.

"I'm getting tired," Friesen laughed. "And it's time for somebody new to come in."

After earning a home economics degree from Kansas State University, Friesen and her husband went to Brazil for three years to do community development work for Mennonite Central Committee. While there, she worked to teach gardening and nutrition to adults, started a life skills club for girls and a preschool for young children.

Upon returning to the United States, Friesen substitute taught in junior high and high school home economics classes, then went on to get a master's degree in early childhood development from Emporia State University.

For six years, Friesen was the director of Community Playschool, and found the challenge of administrating a daycare was right up her alley.

"I decided this is where I need to be; this is what I'm interested in," Friesen said.

In 1983, a position as co-director of Hesston Community Child Care opened up.

"I was ready for something a little more exciting, a little more detailed," Friesen said. "...Well, I got it."

Friesen oversaw all the educational and financial aspects of the nonprofit organization.

"Child care is not a profitable business, it's hard to make ends meet," Friesen said. "...There were a lot of times I would hold my paycheck until money came in so we would have enough in the bank to cover."

Hesston Community Child Care provides care for children six weeks through 5 years old, along with coordinating a before and after school program for kindergarten through fourth grade students at Hesston Elementary School.

"We started out in the old belfry building over on Weaver Street," Friesen recalled.

In 1990, Hesston Community Child Care moved into a building provided by Hay and Forage Industries. When Agco took over HFI in 2001, Hesston Community Child Care moved its classes to Hesston Mennonite Church.

It was then that Friesen and Schowalter Villa CEO James Krehbiel brought together their boards to explore the possibility of building a child care center adjacent to the assisted living facility.

"We thought our dream would be to do something with Schowalter Villa," Friesen said. "We had, earlier, been bringing children over to do intergenerational activities and we saw that was a really good thing."

Envisioning a place where seniors could interact regularly with children, plans for the Hesston Intergenerational Child Development Center were formed. Though 9/11 brought fundraising challenges, the building was completed in 2005.

"We finally got our money and were able to build a child development center designed specifically for each age group of children," Friesen said.

Hesston Intergenerational Child Development Center cares for 85 children, some of whom have parents who went to the daycare when they were children themselves.

"We have board members who used to be kids here," Friesen noted.

Classrooms are tailored to the developmental needs of children and open up to outdoor playground areas, both features Friesen sees as crucial to providing quality care.

"One of the things we really try to work on is helping the kids reconnect with the outdoors and with nature," Friesen said. "That is why this has been such an ideal place."

Schowalter Villa's Main Street area looks into Hesston Intergenerational Child Development Center's toddler play area, allowing residents to observe the children during the day.

"It brings joy to the residents," Friesen said. "It brings the generations together."

Toddlers are also taken in a six-seater Bye-Bye Buggy through Schowalter Villa's hallways, giving residents a chance to wave or step out of their rooms and greet the children.

"Getting daily interaction with the elderly, they're very comfortable with them; with people in wheelchairs and people who may act a little strange," Friesen said.

Friesen said other daycare providers have come to tour the center and learn about intergenerational facilities.

"At the point when we started that, this was pretty much a new idea," Friesen said. "...Having a child care center designed specifically for this purpose was a whole new concept."

Friesen modestly credits Schowalter Villa's leadership for the success that Hesston Community Child Care has seen.

"It is two independent, nonprofit, high-functioning organizations that have decided to live next door to each other so that we can improve the quality of life for both the residents and the children," Friesen said.

Hesston Community Child Care recently added two new administration positions, easing some of the burden of responsibility Friesen has shouldered for 35 years.

"Up until about two years ago, I had done it all by myself and it was kind of crazy," Friesen said.

The new housing addition at Schowalter Villa will include two classrooms for Hesston Community Child Care.

"We need somebody to come in with fresh eyes and see the opportunities with this building and see how we can do intergenerational living," Friesen said.

Friesen was quick to point out many Hesston Community Child Care staff members have upheld the organization's commitment to quality services.

"It isn't Judy, it's who do we have in the classrooms relating to the kids and how do you get the best possible staff," Friesen said. "I have some wonderful teachers who have taught through the years."

Friesen said she will miss the people at Hesston Community Child Care and Schowalter Villa who have come to be her friends and also, to a lesser extent, the challenges of administration.

"I will miss the fun of bringing order out of chaos," Friesen laughed.

In her retirement years, Friesen plans to entertain, go out to eat, garden, volunteer for other nonprofit organizations and continue to learn.

"I enjoy being at home, but I've got to have something that brings order and sequence and I need to have some kind of a challenge," Friesen smiled.

Hesston Community Child Care's annual pig roast fundraiser will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. April 7 at Whitestone Mennonite Church, 629 Crescent Drive in Hesston. A retirement reception for Friesen will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. that same evening.

For more information about Hesston Community Child Care, visit http://hesstonchildcare.org.