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After 53 years, child-care provider still a lot of fun

Local week in review
Chatfield daycare provider Helen Arnold with her two last kids of 50 years of care, Olivia Carver and Easton Walker. Helen, who is retiring, also cared for the fathers of both theses children.

It might take a village to raise a child, but someone in that village needs to step up and do the hard work with those children.

In Chatfield, that person is Helen Arnold.

"There are a few other day cares (in Chatfield)," said Genie Sprau, who leaves both of her children in Arnold’s care several days a week. "But her reputation precedes her."

That reputation is born of 53 years of watching and feeding more than 140 children, playing with them and keeping them safe.

"I can’t play football with them anymore," Arnold said. "I miss doing things like that with the kids. But still I keep them safe. I keep them fed."


Feeding time at Arnold’s day care is one of the children’s favorite times. Sprau said the children love Arnold’s cooking, a skill Arnold said she inherited from her mother, her role model.

Each day she prepares a kid-friendly menu picked out by the children themselves. That way, if someone tries to complain, Arnold said, laughing, they cannot blame the meal on her.

"There’s nothing worse than a kid at the table saying, ‘Yuk,’" Arnold said.

She’s famous for her "scrambled burger," a hamburger patty that is chopped up, cooked and then served on a bun. Like the buns, she buys treats such as maple bars and long johns from a bakery in St. Charles.

"I buy them with no frosting on them so I can freeze them," Arnold said. "That way I can put the frosting on later and it tastes better."

That attention to detail — fresh buns, frosting the pastries herself — is found in many of the ways she treats the children. Each, she said, gets a nickname.

"I have to have them in my care for awhile before I come up with a name," Arnold said.

Most nicknames might just be initials, but some get more creative names. Recently she was visited by a woman for whom she used to care. As a girl, that woman was nicknamed "Pickle" by Arnold, a moniker that sticks with the woman to this day.


Arnold said she’s proud of what so many of her charges have grown up to become.

"One is a police officer. One was at the Berlin Wall when it came down, and he brought me a piece of the wall," Arnold said. "That’s something, isn’t it. There are nurses and teachers."

Most, she added, went on to college and are now raising their own families (some with Arnold’s help), and she is especially proud of one year when five girls she’d cared for graduated as honor students.

After so many years and so many children, Arnold said she’s ready to retire. Sort of. She’s not taking infants anymore. The one baby in her care — out of 10 children she currently watches — will be her last. But she’ll watch that one, even if it’s just after school, as long as the parents want her to do it.

"I’m going to miss the kids," Arnold said. "Maybe it’s a two-way street. The thought of not having the kids around is kind of scary."

"The thing I notice the most is she runs a tight ship," said Sprau, who has known Arnold far longer than the 11 years her children have been in the day care. "She has her rules to follow, but she can be as silly as the next kid. She still has their respect, and I think that’s a gift."

It’s a gift the town of Chatfield will miss in the future.

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