Hagers retiring after four decades of child care work

An act of faith over 40 years ago worked out well for Bill and Anne Hager.

Since the fall of 1977 the couple has operated Weathering Springs Day Care on First Street, S.E. in Pulaski where – over the past four decades – hundreds of children would spend their days while their parents worked.

The Hager family today is a good bit larger than in 1986 when the photo below was taken. Bill and Anne Hager are joined above by Ryan (left) and his wife, Melinda and their kids, Wyatt, Hadley and Lydia; Elizabeth (center), and Will and his wife, Breanna and their kids Trent, Ella and Makinlee – just as they were photographed at the Weathering Springs swingset over 30 years ago. (Photo by Mike Williams)

Thursday (July 18) the Hagers ended their childcare careers, officially closing Weathering Springs and setting their sights on retirement.

A 1967 graduate of Pulaski High School, Bill attended Appalachian State University before returning to Pulaski to teach industrial arts and physical education at the high school.  He also coached football, wrestling and track.

Anne, a native of Wilmington, N.C., majored in recreation at Radford University.

After graduating in 1974, Anne went to work at the Hensel Eckman YMCA, which at the time needed a swim team coach and program director.

She also taught a life-saving class and that is where she met Bill.

They were married in 1978.

In the summer, Bill operated a summer camp on Little Creek called Weathering Springs.

“The two of us were both working 24-7 jobs,” Anne recalled. “He told me he was quitting. Right before we got married. I thought, ‘this is great.’ I called my parents, ‘we’re getting married and we’re quitting our jobs.’ That went over great.”

“We have kind of based this journey on our trust in God,” Anne said.

“When he told me he was quitting his job, he started by saying, ‘Do you believe in the Bible?’ And I go, ‘well, yeah.’ And he says, ‘Do you believe God is going to provide for you?’ And I go, ‘Well, yeah, but…’,” Anne recalled.

“And he says, ‘well, I’m quitting my job,’” Anne said, noting that since then God has provided and protected them.

“This isn’t like working for a company.  This is us,” she exclaimed. “You can lose your shirt in an instant. I feel very blessed that we have made it this long.”

Anne stopped working at the “Y” in the summer of ’77 and worked with the swim team over in Giles for the summer.

“I came back and we got started with Weathering Springs in September. We kind of had a plan. We got married in ’78 and Bill’s mother and father let us rent the house next door,” she said.

“Bill had such good luck with the Little Creek summer camp with good participation. It let us know that people knew me from swimming instruction and people knew him from the camp, so we had no trouble starting out,” Anne said.

The “family home” childcare operation started out in Bill’s parents’ home next door.

“One day I was outside mowing and Mr. Marvin Moles from the church next door – Rev. West’s church – came over and asked if we would be interested in buying the church building. They were planning to build a new church up above Dolphin Swim Club,” Bill recalled.

“We bought it and the interest rate was 14 percent and we paid that the whole time,” he added.

According to Anne, that’s when their “family home” operation became a childcare “center.”

“We had the little people downstairs and the bigger kids upstairs. That was a business,” she said.

Insurance costs made the couple re-think the childcare “center” arrangement, and they went back to “family home.”

“We dropped down to nine kids and then they raised the limit to 12. It was a shock when we had to close the center because we had to say goodbye to some 30 kids within 30 days. That was hard. But this smaller operation has been more satisfying for us and the kids. And for the parents. It’s like we were more of a family,” Anne said.

Weathering Springs was not just a day care, but was more like a pre-school setting for the kids.

“We would take imaginary trips and go around the world and we’d visit all the different continents,” Anne said. “In doing all that the kids learned their letters, they learned their numbers – we were learning different stuff.”

Students also learned about the different regions of America.

“This last one we talked about America. We started out in space and then we looked at America and we zoomed into Virginia. We’d always take an imaginary trip somewhere to a state or country and learned about the world,” Anne said.

Inside the main room of the Weathering Springs facility, the letters R-E-S-P-E-C-T hang above the room for all to see.

“Respect. That’s big here,” Anne said. “Each letter means something. “R” is for rules, “E” is for each other, “S” is for self, “P” is for parents, the other “E” is for the earth, “C” is for community and “T” is for teacher. That’s like coaches and Sunday School teachers and what respect means to them. And the kids will tell you respect means treating others the way you want to be treated.”

“When we discipline, we say ‘you’re not respecting your friends.’ That word is used big time around here.”

Anne and Bill have no idea how many kids they’ve had through the years.

“This is no different than a childcare center, but the thing is the kids see us every day. From the time they first come, which is usually 16 months, to the time they are five. Every day of the year, Monday – Friday. You really get an attachment.

“You watch their personalities merge. It’s kind of fun to do that,” Anne said.

Facebook has helped them know what kids they used to care for are doing now.

“I know you got to let them go. I don’t get too affectionately attached to them. I try not to. But they’ll always have a special place. I’ve been looking at pictures and pictures and pictures and with every one of them something comes up to remember about them. It’s funny, they’ll even come back and say they remember this, and they remember that.”

Anne said when they first started, Bill kept busy with maintenance and fixing up the rental homes they acquired through the years around their facility.

“In the last 10 years he’s the one who did breakfast. Now he’s around more. He ties shoes and does a lot more. He has a way about him – it’s amazing how they all just kind of get attached to him and he doesn’t really do a thing with them, but they always kind of knew he was around,” Anne said.

One thing that kept Bill busy and around was his trophy business.  Through the years Bill has created trophies for businesses, organizations, sports teams and more. It’s a business he is also winding down with the close of the day care operation.

Anne and Bill, with the help of Kandace Howlett who has worked at Weathering Springs for the past 14 years, tend to the kids now from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Years ago the day started at 6 a.m.

The couple isn’t sure what will happen to the building. “We’re just kind of letting God take care of that,” Anne said.

For the past week or so, people have visited the facility to take things out that they can use or that means something to them.

“People are picking up things they can use. It’s all going to go to good places where it can be used,” Anne said.

With Weathering Springs closed, Anne and Bill will finally have some time to themselves as time away from work was hard to get over the past 42 years.

“You don’t get personal leave days or sick days. Just within the last probably 10 years, I kind of felt like, ‘you know, I’ve been in this business for 30 years. I deserve a paid vacation.’ But it took me 30 years to figure out that I can do that. And the parents were great. I would take a paid week in the summer and we’d take a non-paid week at Christmas to be with the kids. I think the only time we really missed work was when our parents died. The kids’ parents were great, it was just I felt like this was my job and this is what I’ve got to do,” Anne said.

The Hagers have three children of their own who have their own families today.

“Ryan lives in Hickory, N.C. and is a civil engineer.  He has three kids. Will is here, he’s a contractor and has three children. Elizabeth has moved to Phoenix, Arizona. She’s a traveling physical therapist. She discovered she really liked out west, so she found a job and took off.”

Elizabeth organized last Saturday’s retirement celebration in honor of her parents, which was held at the Historic Pulaski Train Station and Kiwanis Park next door. The event gave friends a chance to congratulate the Hagers on their retirement – friends who were among the kids who the Hagers had cared for in the past along with their parents.

What will they miss most about Weathering Springs?

“I think what I’ll miss the most is what I hated the most. The noise,” Anne said. “It started to get on my nerves,” she said with a laugh.

“No, you have to miss what the kids teach you. They have no worries! No worries! That amazes me about kids. It’s fun to be around an environment where there’s no worries. They’re waiting for you to tell them what to do, and they love you no matter what. There’s days when we have to fuss, fuss, fuss, and then they come in the next day and it’s like “Hey, hey, hey! So, you know they feel safe and are having fun.”

“When 9-11 happened, I came home and told Bill, ‘we need to turn on the TV and see what’s happening,’ and we were over here with the sound down and the kids were over there just playing. At that moment I realized, wow! You know, this is what kids teach us.”

One thing that saddens both Bill and Anne is the realization that not all children have it that good.

“Unfortunately, there are children who do not live like that. Being over here taught my children and me another world is out there. Kids can’t help it and they can’t get out of it.”

In the future, Bill plans to keep the rental properties going and wind down his trophy business. Right now, Anne plans to substitute teach. “Probably about three days a week, then two days I’d like to find something I can volunteer at.”

In the meantime, “I would love one last time to just thank everybody. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. To thank everyone for supporting us,” Anne said.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot