Our Neighbors....Judy Sanda

Judy Sanda has raised 300 children, including five of her own, and she's still going strong. That's because this popular Cloquet day care provider is doing what she loves - and she gets a lot of love in return.

Judy Sanda has raised 300 children, including five of her own, and she's still going strong. That's because this popular Cloquet day care provider is doing what she loves - and she gets a lot of love in return.

"I don't do it because I can't do anything else," she said. "I do it by choice."

Sanda moved to Minnesota from Fort Wayne, Ind., as a third-grader so she and her family could be closer to her mother's family in Cloquet. She went to school at Queen of Peace School through sixth grade and then moved on to attend Jefferson.

She graduated from Cloquet High School in 1973 and attended one year of college at St. Cloud before finishing up at Duluth Business University and studying fashion merchandising.

"I had worked at Crystal's in downtown Cloquet for two years when I was in high school and really liked it," she explained. "After that, I managed Goldie's and Goldie's II in Duluth."


After marrying husband Steve and getting pregnant with their first child, however, she decided to go into day care.

"My sister-in-law was pregnant at the time also, and she needed day care," Sanda said. "I told her since I was going to stay home with my baby, I might as well take care of hers as well. I was just going to stay home with that first child, but my first two children were born only 10 months apart - my second son was born prematurely and spent a lot of time in the hospital. That's how I started to do this - and I found I did well at it."

Due to the Sandas' quickly expanding household, they began to outgrow their little two-bedroom house on 10th Street.

"I had my first four children in that house," said Sanda. "It was crowded, but it never seemed like it. The children were just all there and they came so quickly, we didn't really think about it. Then we bought Puumalas' house on Cloquet Avenue, added on, and have been happy there ever since."

Sanda said her children adjusted easily to having a household full of day care children because that's the way it was from the time they were born.

"They never knew any different," she said. "They just learned to walk in, pick up a baby and walk around with him or her. I've always diligently tried to be at everything my own children were involved in," she added. "I've taken day care kids with me to basketball games, football games, all sorts of stuff like that. That's been the wonderful part about this job. I just tell my parents, 'You'll have to pick up at the high school today.'

"I hope that what my children have gotten out of the whole thing is that they will be great parents," summed up Sanda. "They know what it's like to be frustrated - and there are frustrating times in day care where you think, 'I can't do this' - but the rewards are there as well. Older people don't always love you, but these little people do."

Sanda operates the day care in her home five days a week, Monday through Friday, year round, and children have to be six weeks or older in order to attend. She said a child will often spend multiple years with her, and she gets to know that child and his or her family very well.


"If a child comes in at six weeks, he or she is pretty much going to stay until they're done with day care," said Sanda. "That's kind of the ace in the hole as far as day care, because if you've got one and the parents have another baby, chances are that one is going to come to you, too."

Right now, the oldest child she cares for is in second grade.

"After the second grade, you have to decide if you're going to keep on with them," she said, "because then you have to come up with different things for them to do, which isn't easy when you have babies to care for as well."

When the children begin to arrive at her home each morning, Sanda said they all have breakfast together, and during breakfast they talk about what they did the day before. The day also includes a morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and some of the kids eat supper there as well.

"In the 'olden days,' that happened more often," Sanda said, "but now my hours are pretty much 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. If I stayed open any later than that, I'd be missing the things my own kids are involved in, and I'm just not willing to do that."

She said someone from ABC readers comes in several times a year to read books and discuss them with the children, giving each of the children a book to keep. Folks from the Head Start program also come in periodically to work on enrichment projects with the children, as well as a gym teacher who leads them in various physical activities.

"We try to walk every day and be outside as much as we can," she added. "They love the outdoors and think snow shoveling is fun! It's more challenging in the winter months because getting them all dressed is a big job. My son, Jacob, said he has it all figured out - he puts their mittens on and then duct tapes them so they'll stay on!" she laughed.

Sanda said she tries not to run her day care on a regimented schedule.


"We do what the group wants, and the group focuses somewhat around the babies, unless there are teachers here to work with the children," she said. "I don't run a preschool program, though we do some reading and writing and use the letter boards for them to learn their names. They're only three and four, and I try to raise them like I did our own - we play. I truly believe in that. I've watched several programs that say children are really lacking the time to play, to sit down with a bunch of blocks and say, 'Let's pick out the blue ones and hook them all together' - and that's also learning!"

Sanda also plans a myriad of different activities to keep the children entertained and busy, including the "Bug Man," who introduces them to centipedes and other insects, and the "Big Animal Man" who teaches them about animals such as raccoons and foxes. She said the children are also fond of visiting older people who live in the neighborhood.

They also go on field trips to the fire hall, an activity popular with all of the children.

"We go over the whole idea of calling '911' and telling the children that the police and firemen are the good guys," she explained. "I always try to teach the kids my address, which is 1013 Carlton Avenue. My son, Aaron, lives one house away at 911 Carlton Avenue. One day last summer, the kids and I were walking down Carlton Avenue past his house, and I said, 'Do you remember who lives here?' One little boy looked at me and said, 'Aaron lives there. He's one of the good guys.' I said, 'Really?' He said, 'If you dial 911, you get Aaron!'"

An important member of the Sanda household and day care is Clancy, the golden retriever, now 12 years old, who has been raised with the day care kids.

"He's just a wonderful day care dog," said Sanda. "He lays in the middle of the floor and the kids crawl all over him and he's never once even nipped at anybody. Nikki Sloan, one of my day care kids from years ago, learned to walk with him. She'd hold on to his collar and he'd take off with her. He'd go across the floor and her little feet would go as fast as they possibly could. Within three or four days, she was walking! We'd say, 'Here comes Clancy with Nikki!'"

Sanda also believes in making a learning experience out of experiencing life. Last week, she suggested the day care children watch a few moments of the funeral of former President Gerald Ford on television.

"The kids actually stopped playing and watched a little of President Ford's funeral, primarily because we knew [Cloquet resident] Ryan Johnson [a military pallbearer at the funeral]. It was my own children, Patrick and Rachel, that I called into my room that night and suggested they watch the end of the funeral as the soldiers were folding the flag and giving it to Mrs. Ford. Patrick turned around and said to me, 'This is what you meant when you said, 'This is history,' isn't it? I cannot believe the number of things you've watched on TV that you said were history - the space shuttle as it blew up, the plane that flew into the World Trade Center, all of the presidents' funerals. Now I know why you kept saying to us, 'Come and watch. Come and watch.' I get it now. I get what you were talking about.'"


Sanda said each time something momentous has happened in the history of our nation, the day care kids seem to a sense that something important was going on.

"As the World Trade Center buildings came down, those little kids were remarkable," she attested. "They sat and played quietly with things. They saw us watching the television and crying and they seemed to know that whatever going on was bad."

There's more to being a day care provider than simply having adequate space and a heart for children, however. Sanda said day care providers are mandated to attend a series of major training sessions and pay for those classes themselves.

"We took one at the fire hall on passenger safety with kids," said Sanda. "That class was $500, and now we are required by law to take it."

Day care providers are also required to take CPR and First Aid every other year, as well as SIDS training annually.

Sanda said one of the most valuable assets has been the informally organized support group for area day care providers who get together to share ideas, support, training, successes - and even children!

"There is a definite high need for day care for infants in Carlton County since there are only 75 licensed providers in Carlton County," related Sanda. "We take calls at the rate of about eight to 10 a week, trying to find placement for babies. Our day care support group works very closely together to do trainings and trying to find places for those babies when we get calls. I usually say to the caller, 'Give me 20 minutes and I'll see if I can find you some spots where you can interview.'

"As a support group, we've been very successful in Carlton County," Sanda continued. "We have wonderful people we work with. Our licenser, Pat Burr, is wonderful. Our county workers at Human Services are wonderful people to work with, too. At one point, they wanted to charge us for our licensing. As a group, we got together, wrote letters and had our parents write letters and then we sent them all in. Now, we are one of only three counties in the state of Minnesota where we, as day care providers, don't have to pay for our licensing."


Sanda said the support group is very supportive of new day care providers as they start out and willing to talk with them and help them any way we can.

As Sanda looks back over her years in day care, she said she only remembers a couple of times she's had to shut down for the day. One was when her brother-in-law, Kerry Roe, was killed in an accident at the mill, and the other was when her entire family came down with the flu.

"The kids were little, so there was a lot of laundry involved," she said. "After that bout with the flu, we were sitting at dinner one night, and my son, Luke, said, 'Mom, if we learned one thing, we learned to make it to the bathroom every time - and we'll never let you down again.' And they haven't!

"One of the worst things I've ever had to deal with is lice," she grimaced. "The first time that I got a call from a parent saying one of the children had lice, I called home and told my boys about it and said I was going to stop on my way home to pick up some shampoo. When I got home, there were my boys, sitting side by side on four chairs in the kitchen in their skivvies and T-shirts, and they said, 'Cut it off.' I said, 'What do you mean, 'Cut it off? Let me at least check to see if you have lice first,' but they told me to cut off their hair anyway - and they've worn it short ever since!"

After 28 years in the business, the Sandas are currently just shy of taking in their 300th day care child, and their own children are now ages 27, 26, 21, 19 and 16. Both of their oldest boys are in the United States Air Force - Aaron will be deployed to Iraq at the end of this month for his second tour of duty and Luke was recently deployed to a small Norwegian island off the coast of South America. Patrick is also hoping to head into the military, and Jacob, 21, works at a day care center in Carlton. Rachel is a student at Cloquet High School. All of them continue to help out with the day care children as time allows, along with Sanda's husband, Steve.

Judy and Steve are about to leave for a well-deserved 10-day vacation in Hawaii, with their day care children all carefully scheduled to spend the time under the watchful care of other providers in the area.

"It's something we've waited all our lives for!" Judy grinned.

But as soon as they return, there's little doubt the Sandas will be eager to take up the reins once again.


In fact, Sanda is now starting on her second generation of day care children, currently caring for a baby whose mother was in Sanda's day care herself.

When Sanda's day care children grow up and go off to school and leave day care behind, she admits it's always hard on her.

"I cry many hours," she confessed. "The majority of the kids who go through my day care, when they see me out somewhere else, will come up and give me a hug. It's pretty amazing that they have that much recollection from a time when they were so young."

Sanda grows introspective when considering the young lives she's taken a role in helping to shape.

"I think my greatest pleasure is seeing them go on and be successful in the things they do," she reflected. "I was at Snoball this year and I think I counted nine of my kids there. I thought, 'Those are my babies - and now they're grow men and women.' I think that's where my greatest pride comes, when I look at them and see successful people. I hope that what they get from me is the power to succeed. Not everybody is cut out to be a college graduate, by all means, but the power to strive to want more is so important."

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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