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A care-full life

Posted: March 24, 2008 2:45 a.m.
Updated: May 25, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Hjordis Bakke in the kid's playroom of her Saugus home. Bakke was one of the original childcare providers in the SCV, and she is still working.

 
For more than 40 years, Saugus resident Hjordis Bakke has watched the Santa Clarita Valley grow up. In fact, you could almost say she's raised it. In those years, she's raised her own children, of course, but also provided licensed, in-home childcare to successive generations of other children. In fact, at times, she has cared for the children of folks she cared for when they were young.

But more than that, Bakke has been instrumental in creating a child-friendly SCV. She was one of the founding members of the Family Day Care Association of the Santa Clarita Valley, became its first president, and continues to be very active in that organization today. Vivacious and "plugged-in" to all the latest developments in the field, it would seem she could keep it all humming another 40 years - and she'll give it a shot.

"I will always be a member (of the association). I'll always be doing child care as long as I have my health," she said.

The journey
Hjordis (pronounced "your-dis") Bakke, 68, was born and raised in Norway and still carries a bit of it with her in a charming accent. At age 23, after finishing college in Norway, she came to Minneapolis under a sponsorship and began working at Prudential Insurance. There she met Chris Bakke, who was also from Norway. They were married, in Manhattan, in 1962.

Chris Bakke was soon transferred to the West Coast and the couple lived in Hollywood for a time. In 1966 he was transferred to Valencia and worked with computers for Remington Rand, which is now Unisys.

Living in Saugus since 1966, the Bakkes raised two children - Neal, who currently lives in Glendale, and Iris, who still lives in the SCV. Chris Bakke died in 2001, after a long illness.

Child Care
With a variety of office skills and other talents, including being fluent in six languages, Bakke said she had worked for Blue Cross in Hollywood when the family lived there. But when they moved out here "to the boondocks," she didn't want to commute to Hollywood, so considered her options.

In those days there weren't a lot of local employment opportunities for women and she had a 2-year-old son to take care of. She thought, "Maybe I'll go into child care. My son needs somebody to play with and it will give me something to do."

And, just like that, in 1966, her new career began.

First, she obtained her California license to be a child care provider. She said it wasn't a very involved process and noted that, in those conservative days, the license had to be in her husband's name.

At the time, there was no child care "association" in the SCV. There was no place where she could go to exchange information and ideas with other child care providers. So, for years, Bakke used to drive to Van Nuys to attend meetings with a group there - always wishing an SCV group would start up.

Bakke said that, in March of 1989, Jan Heidt called together a meeting at City Hall to discuss the local child care situation. Bakke, of course, attended.

"The room was packed," she said.

At the time, the McMartin (child care abuses) case was fresh on everyone's mind, and Bakke said that the reaction to it was stirring up plans for excessive restrictions on child care providers "like you couldn't hug a child who was hurt."

"I got up a couple of times during the meeting to say, 'This is crazy. We have to meet half-way,'" she said.

Naturally, she was called upon to be part of a task force to work on the issue.

The task force began in May of that same year and Bakke said that, though there were others involved to start, the "task force" eventually boiled down to three women: Bakke, a child care advocate named Kate Meurer, and Marcy Pikop, who was exploring the subject for her masters thesis.

In August they had the first meeting of the Family Day Care Association of the SCV at the Valencia Library and the room was "full."

"I paid the first dues, since we needed stamps to mail flyers," Bakke said. She was, of course, "called upon" to be the first president.

"From then on we have been doing great," she said. "The whole idea was to get better quality child care, and to get rid of the stigma that we were babysitters." She said the idea was also to get the word out that family-style, in-home child care was available in the SCV and less costly than care at larger centers.

Since the association was formed, Bakke has served as a board member, parliamentarian, treasurer, "You name it." She is currently the association's secretary.

"I was going to retire, but they keep dragging me back in," she quipped.

Though Bakke was so instrumental in the formation and continuation of the Family Day Care Association of the SCV, she deflects attention from herself to the association, and lauds its benefits. A few of these include free referrals, and "all kinds of workshops."

"The association has been wonderful. If you have problems, there's always someone to talk to. There are always new ideas at the meetings," she said.

Bakke also credits other members of the association, such as Mary Gregory, the current president. "Mary is really fantastic - all her energy. She works 24/7, I think."

Gregory returns the compliments: "Hjordis is a role model and a mentor to me and to the other members. I have learned so much from her to help my own business succeed. I am constantly amazed at her youthful energy and spirit.

The best way for me to describe Hijordis is to say she is 'young at heart.'"

Families Caring for Families
Bakke said that she is licensed to care for 12 children at a time, but, since she currently doesn't have a "helper," she cares for less at this time. She cares for children from infancy to kindergarten-age, and not only cares for them, but instructs them. "I have two curricula, one for ages 3-4 and one for ages 4-5. The idea is to prepare the children for kindergarten.

The association's motto is "Families Caring for Families," and that's the way Bakke runs her own child care. Except for one playroom, and play equipment and toys in the back yard, the Bakke house is like any other home. She said that, the "home" atmosphere goes beyond that. She molds her charges as she did her own children, offering love and teaching good manners at the table and the use of "please" and "thank you."

Her daughter felt the whole process is a "good experience" for her mother's charges and was for herself as she grew up. "It was nice to always have my mom home when I came home," she said.

And her daughter isn't the only one who appreciates her. Bakke is still in contact with many of the "children" she helped raise and their parents. "I get cards from people who had kids here in the '60s. From England, I get cards," she said.

That's one of the reasons she intends to continue in child care for a long time. But there are others.

"The kids keep me going, keep me active (she's going skiing at Mammoth soon). I'm so used to keeping busy (without the kids), I wouldn't know what to do with myself," she said.

The Family Day Care Association of the SCV can be reached at (661) 250-4238. Visit the Web site at www.angelfire.com/ok3/familydaycareassoc/.

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