From the role of housewife and mother, Rita Watson added another feather to her hat, so to speak, when she transitioned into becoming a full time caretaker of children 41 years ago.
“I wanted to get out of the house and make some extra money,” she said, thinking she “would work until the kids were out of high school.” Then the time line was extended to “when they graduate from college.” But she figured why stay at home, “no one was there ... that’s how it developed into 41 years.”
Now she plans on taking some time for herself, perhaps more reading, fishing and traveling a bit more with her husband.
“When they hired me, I was very quiet,” she said. “They didn’t think I’d make it. But I changed.”
Watson says no one has worked at the child care facility as long as she has. Coming a year behind her was Sheila Kuenstler, who was once assistant director under the leadership of Tana King before becoming director.
‘Tana King was the director when I came here,” Watson said. “She taught me a lot.”
Watson started working at the facility when her youngest was in kindergarten.
“I started with the toddlers,” she said. “Then to the twos, then to kindergarten, back to the twos ... that wasn’t for me, so I went to the fours.”
There King gave her the position of head teacher of the four-year-olds which she did for about nine years. Then the nursery was expanding and she became head of that area. “After that, I was assistant director,” she said. King had retired, and Kuenstler moved from assistant director to the position of director.
“After nine years as assistant director, they downsized ... eliminated my position. So I could go to any age group I wanted. Naturally it was going to be the nursery at this age.”
She did this for the next seven years before retiring.
Watson said the rewards of working at Methodist Child Care are many, but it’s watching the children grow up to be productive citizens and have families of their own is one of the greatest satisfactions of the job.
“What I loved most was watching the children grow up and then being here long enough to see what profession they would go into ... doctors, mechanics, teachers, nurses, and then to see these kids as adults raising their own children.”
She has even cared for a second generation of kids, the children of those she cared for when they were little ones at the child care.
“Just to know I had a little part in it ... they may not remember me, but a lot do. The highlight is when a child remembers and they see you at a restaurant and say ‘you’re Miss Rita.’”
Rita and husband Mike have three grown children, Tracy who lives at home; Michelle Kubecka and husband Frank of Wharton who have two sons and Kelly Anderson and husband Terry of Chireno who have a son and daughter. She also has a great-granddaughter who is four months old.
Methodist Child Care has been her “home away from home.”
“I don’t know how I’ll feel being at home without the staff and the busy time ... not sure I’ll like the quiet time. I have made lots of friends.”
Her last day at the facility was May 31 and she’s trying to get used to the change.
“This is still new to me,” she said. “It feels like I’m on vacation. It has not hit me yet.”