By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Too many people today walk on by without noticing those around them, or look the other way to avoid getting involved, according to Lester Prairie resident LeAnn Pick.
That is part of why she moved to Lester Prairie, and why she is so grateful that some of her neighbors were looking out for her young daughter and prevented what could have been a tragic situation on a frigid, snowy day in January.
The day was Monday, Jan. 12. It was the first day Pick’s daughter, Kaila, 4, was to be dropped off at a new backup day care.
LeAnn said she is always very careful when selecting day care providers.
She does research, gets referrals, and checks to find out if there have been any negative reports about a day care before she agrees to use it.
She did all of these things in this case, too. She arranged a week in advance to drop Kaila off that day, and even called the new care provider one last time over the weekend to make sure everything was in order.
LeAnn’s husband was out of town for work that week, so she and Kaila were alone.
The morning of Jan. 12 was bitter cold, and the forecast called for increasing winds, dropping temperatures, and more snow throughout the day.
In spite of this, LeAnn was confident that her daughter was in good hands when she headed off to her new job at the McLeod County Veteran Services Office.
Kaila was to spend the morning in preschool, and then the bus would drop her off at the new backup day care, because her regular day care was closed that day.
Everything went according to plan until LeAnn got the call that no parent would want to receive.
It was the school on the line. LeAnn was told that her daughter was OK, but was with strangers.
The story that followed scared her “nearly out of her mind.”
The bus had dropped her daughter off as instructed, but the new day care was closed, leaving the girl stranded in a strange neighborhood.
“She (the day care owner) had called all of the parents except me,” LeAnn said.
She explained that, to the bus driver, it looked like the residents were home, because there happened to be a construction company replacing the siding on the house that day.
Kaila’s teacher told LeAnn that across the street from the new day care is another day care.
The neighbor, Phyllis Hummel, runs a licensed day care out of her home, and had noticed that when some of the preschoolers who attend her day care got off the bus, another little girl got off the bus with them, but walked across the street alone.
“She noticed my daughter standing out in the cold with nowhere to go. Following orders from her mommy (she had been told not to wander off), she just stood there, scared out of her mind and cold, and probably extremely confused,” LeAnn said.
Hummel sent her husband out to get the girl and bring her in so they could find out where she belonged.
LeAnn explained that Kaila has been told many times to beware of strangers, but eventually she agreed to go into the Hummels’ house.
“She knew this situation was bigger than she could handle on her own,” LeAnn said.
The Hummels were able to get Kaila’s first name without any problems, but when they asked for her last name, she said, “Princess.”
“We always tell her she is mommy and daddy’s little princess,” LeAnn explained.
Armed with a first name and a description of the little girl, Hummel called the school to find out who she was and where she belonged.
“What is really positive about a small school is that they know the kids, and they acted so quickly,” LeAnn said.
Before long, Kaila had been identified and the teacher immediately called LeAnn at work. She gave her Hummel’s phone number.
“I could tell in my daughter’s voice that she was OK,” LeAnn said.
The relief she felt was immense.
“When you think of all the things that could have happened,” LeAnn said, her voice trailing off. She mentioned children who have been grabbed off the street, and others who have wandered off in that kind of weather and been found frozen, or never found at all.
After consulting Kaila’s teacher and talking briefly to Hummel and to Kaila, LeAnn decided to let her daughter stay there until she got off work.
“She didn’t even want me to pay her,” LeAnn said of her first meeting with Hummel later that afternoon.
“God was looking out for my daughter that day, and Phyllis was the angel he sent,” she added.
Hummel’s act of kindness has resulted in her being Kaila’s new backup day care provider.
“She (Kaila) is excited to go over there,” LeAnn said. “Her first day was Wednesday, and it was all hugs and smiles. She (Hummel) is the ideal day care provider. She is a very humble person, but her act of kindness was truly a miracle in my eyes.”
LeAnn and her husband built their house in Lester Prairie and moved to the community in 2006 because of the good school district and the small-town atmosphere.
“We feel safe here,” LeAnn commented.
After the incident, she thought about all of the things that could have happened, and all of the tragic stories she has heard on the news, but she tries not to think about that part of it anymore.
“You look at things a little differently after going through all that,” LeAnn said.
She is grateful to the school staff for their quick action, and to the Hummels for looking out for a neighbor and going out of their way to make a scared little girl feel safe.