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'Nurturing, selfless, competent and loving:' Karon Thew named Wadena County Child Care Provider of the Year

Thew said in an interview that her favorite thing about the day care “is watching the kids grow up and watching them learn. It’s so cool – there’s something about it that’s really awesome – something about how their memory works.”

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Karon, Curt and Waylon Thew at their home day care in Wadena.
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WADENA — Karon Thew of Wadena loves home day care work, and it shows — she has been named Wadena County Child Care Provider of the Year for 2022.

She launched her home day care business two years ago, and since then she has been teaching, guiding and caring for up to 10 kids — currently ages 3 months to 10 years — while their parents are at work.

“I always knew day care was something I wanted to do,” she said. A big part of that came from occasionally helping her sister, Kelley Klebs, who runs a home day care in Elk River.

Thew also worked as an assistant Head Start teacher for four years, and now puts everything she learned there into teaching her day care family: From doing large motor movements to learning about letters, sounds, counting and numbers, shapes, rhythms, grouping and sorting, “we do a lot,” she said. “With my Head Start background, I learned a lot about getting kids ready for preschool or kindergarten.”

The Child Care Provider of the Year Award for Wadena County was given by Sourcewell, a Minnesota Service Cooperative that serves Wadena, Todd, Cass, Crow Wing and Morrison counties.

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At the awards ceremony, her nominator shared: “Karon has a heart of gold. She is nurturing, selfless, competent and loving. She provides everything I could ever dreamed a day care would provide. I am forever grateful and blessed to have her in my family’s life.”

Thew said in an interview that her favorite thing about the day care “is watching the kids grow up and watching them learn. It’s so cool — there’s something about it that’s really awesome — something about how their memory works.”

The whole gang also gets bundled up and goes outside to play in the big fenced-in backyard every day, unless it’s really cold, she said. “Everybody loves to play outside, too, which is a plus. We have a huge playset with a tunnel slide and a fireman’s pole, they love that,” she said.

Running a day care also allows Thew to stay home with her 18-month-old son, Waylon, and see all the milestones he hits, “which is priceless,” she said.

After they bought a house, Karon and her husband, Arthur (a mechanic and applicator at Leaf River Ag Service in Wadena) had to jump through a few hoops to get it ready to be a day care — the biggest was adding a new egress window downstairs. “It wasn’t too difficult, we had to modify a few things,” she said. “There was a lot of paperwork.”

But nothing overwhelming, and she says anyone who loves kids and is thinking about opening a day care should pursue it. “There’s a strong need for it,” she said.

And it never hurts to plan ahead. “I knew I wanted to do day care, so I just slowly started accumulating things,” she said. “So I had a good start, for sure.”

Her parents, Brent and Ann Johnson of Wadena, were happy to hear she is being honored, but are not surprised she is doing well with her day care business — Brent said she’s kind of been preparing for it her whole life.

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“I was on the Wadena Fire Department, and before we moved up here 15 years ago, I was on the Lake Crystal (Minn.) Fire Department,” he said. “So our kids ended up being fire department kids, and since they were somewhat older than the other kids were then in the Lake Crystal Fire Department, they watched the other kids — it was just part of being a fire department family,” he said.

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Curt, Karon and Waylon Thew of Wadena.
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Brent was also medical chief of the Lake Crystal Fire Department, “so she’s got the medical stuff down, too,” he said.

Because Thew started her business during the pandemic, she had to be flexible and adaptable, and that’s something she has always been good at, her father said.

“She knew what she wanted to do, and she set out and she did it,” he said. “She put a plan together, she worked the plan — she had to adjust due to COVID and stuff — but she stuck to her guns and adapted it to work well in this community ... she’s always been very good at adapting to things quickly.”

When the pandemic hit, businesses shut down, workers stayed home, and “a lot of providers lost money and had to shut down,” Thew said. “At one point, the state was losing a provider a day, which is scary.”

She said there wasn’t too much red tape at her level regarding COVID, and she basically follows the lead of the school district regarding COVID practices.

Thew said she is grateful for her daycare families, one of which nominated her for the award. “Without them, this wouldn't have happened,” she said. “They’re just amazing.”

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