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By David Knopf, News Editor
If you look into Jo Ann Barringhaus’s eyes, you can see the fatigue.
After 22 years watching the children of working families, she’s ready to rest and make time for herself. Rainbow Connection, the day care she, her husband and daughter have run together, will be closing for good May 25.
“Right now, I’m just tired and worn out,” Jo Ann said, sitting in the kitchen of the family’s home on Wellington Street. “They say you always know when it’s time. It’s time.”
She estimates she’s cared for 150 children or so in the more than two decades she’s been in business. They’re ranged in age from 4 weeks to middle school, more often than not nine or 10 at a time.
There’s no sign outside her home day care and she hasn’t advertised. Word of mouth, good relations with most families have brought children her way.
“I never had to advertise, never, ever,” she said. “I had someone ask me how to get started and I just said, ‘Get the word out’.”
She started with a group of kids she picked when the Pentecostal Church Day Care closed. Jo Ann worked there about a year and made a good impression.
“The secretary told me I worked so well with kids did so well relating to parents that I ought to take any kids I wanted with me,” she said. “The youngest one was 6 months old when I started and she stayed with me until she was in eighth grade.”
That then-eighth grader, Amanda Sullard, is now a mother herself and put her daughter, Karleigh Collins, now 4, under Jo Ann’s care.
Her philosophy for caring for people’s children is simple and expressed by the name “Rainbow Connection.” A “rainbow,”she said, is something that holds promise – a pot of gold at the end. The “connection” is the link she wanted to build with the parents who entrusted their kids, and with the children themselves.
“My promise is to connect with you and your kids, to make it the way you want it to be,” Jo Ann said.
She said she never wanted a preschool-size business that would keep her from giving each child individual attention.
She’s succeeded to the extent that a couple that put one child in her care would often send a second, then a third and refer friends and relatives to the home day care.
“I’ve got a family that’s got six children and I’ve kept five,” she said. “I told the mom I couldn’t take the baby because I knew I was quitting.”
She keeps a Christmas photo of Hardin residents Jeff and Vickie Smith, all decked out in red clothes, as a keepsake.
“That whole family is as calm …” she said, looking for just the right word. “It’s a sweet family. It was a pleasure to have them.”
Over the years, she’s had two sets of twins and one extended family that sent four cousins her way.
One of the mothers was Vickie McGinnis, who told other family members how pleased she’d been with Jo Ann. To show their gratitude, Vickie and her husband, Johnny, their son and his wife, Jeremy and Jamie McGinnis, and family members Scott and Julie McClure hosted a surprise retirement party in Hardin on May 5.
The pretense was a birthday party that Jo Ann and her husband, Joe, just happened to be invited to.
Jo Ann’s had help from her daughter, Kim Chrisman, over the years. She’s worked with her mother since pitching in during college and whenever she’s had a break from her job as enrollment secretary at Sunrise Elementary in Richmond.
She’s had help from her husband, too, especially since he retired from his job with the state Highway Department.
“He got to the point where he could deal just as well with them as I could,” Jo Ann said.
Now that she’s about to retire, the priority will be to rest first and then enjoy her freedom to do as she wishes during the day.
“The first couple of weeks, I’m not going to do anything,” she said. “I used to paint and draw, and I’d like to get back to that. I like to travel, go antiquing.
“You have to realize, he worked 28 years with the highway department and I worked 22 with this. You don’t really have time to do anything.”
It got so, Jo An said, that after working 10- or 12-hour days during the week, she’d devote weekend time to begin planning activities and meals for the next week.
It all added up to being tired to the bone, something Jo Ann said she hopes to remedy in the first weeks off the job.
“Once that’s over, I think I’ll miss the kids,” she said. “Somedays you’ll have a really bad day and think, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ and then a kid will come up and hug you and say, ‘Miss Jo Ann, I love you.’ ”