LESTER PRAIRIE, MN LaJean Hoof has called Lester Prairie her home since she was 3 years old. Not only did she grow up in the community, she has played an integral part in the lives of many children who have grown up there over the last four decades.
In 1976, after the birth of her son, Hoof struggled with the decision to stay home and raise him or return to her full-time job.
Ultimately, she decided to stay home to raise her son (and later her daughter), not knowing at the time that childcare would be an even bigger part of her future.
Following the death of a local day care provider, Hoof made the decision to open up her home to the families suddenly in need of day care. She explained that it was not only a great opportunity for her to be able to stay at home with her own children (and eventually grandchildren), but to provide care to other children, as well.
Hoof retired earlier this year 42 years after she opened her home day care.
Children of all ages have been arriving as early as 6 a.m. and staying until 5 p.m. for more than four decades. Eleven-hour days, five-days-a-week, has been a normal work schedule for Hoof.
Hoof can’t put a number on how many children have gone through her day care over the years, but she noted she was always full, with 12 kids at a time for as long as she has been in business.
There were some changes during the time she was in business. Hoof stated that in the early years, many of the children were from Lester Prairie and their parents lived and worked in the community.
However, as the years progressed, more and more families had one or both parents commuting to the metro for work.
She added that over the course of her career, additional regulations were enacted by the state, and more mandatory training was required.
Many of Hoof’s favorite memories were documented in pictures. Sometimes, to her delight, the pictures of fond memories would be pinned to the picture board at graduation parties. She said that she still feels a part of these families, and explained that she created meaningful, lasting bonds with many of the children she cared for.
Hoof has even taken care of the children of children she took care of in the past.
Hoof said she loves getting invited to graduations and weddings, and seeing the excitement of people she cared for as children when they see her again.
Hoof said that she will miss the hugs and how rewarding it has been to help raise the children in her community. She will miss the “I love yous” from the kids, and how good it felt when the kids just wanted to stay a little longer. She said they will always continue to be an extension of her family. When she sees them, there are always lots of hugs and memories shared.
Now, in retirement, LaJean and her husband, Don, will enjoy more time spent traveling, motorcycling, and fishing.
With her parents aging, Hoof said she knew it was time for her to focus on her family. Her father passed away recently, and she was grateful for the extra time she was able to spend with him.
Hoof remains close to her family. She has her two children and three grandchildren living nearby.
Hoof also stays busy volunteering her time with the yearly community festival, Prairie Days, of which she has been a part of since its inception. Additionally, Hoof is part of the women’s league at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. She is starting to volunteer with the sandwich ministry at the local church, as well.
Hoof is well-known in her community and the surrounding area, and it seems likely she will long be remembered for her years of caring for many children in Lester Prairie, and for the volunteer work she continues to do today.