CONTEST: Grandmother of the Adirondacks

Shirley Hence (Provided photo)

(Editor’s note: Winners of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News Biography Writing Contest were recently chosen. Here is the first-place entry for high school. The contest was open to students in the Olympic Region.)

LAKE PLACID — In the annals of the childcare profession, very few names shine as brightly as Shirley Hence. The heartfelt and selfless daycare provider of more than forty years has served our community and hundreds of children throughout the years. Hence holds several unique qualities that have had a major impact on many generations. By delving into her life, it becomes apparent how much of a difference the forty-two-year professional, who made her home in our community of Lake Placid, NY, has made.

Fond of reading, Hence didn’t hate the thought of becoming a librarian, however she didn’t attend college. Instead, she graduated high school in June of ’67 and got married in October, a week after her 18th birthday. In June of 1969, twenty-year-old Shirley and her husband, Junior Hence, moved to Lake Placid from Malone due to a job opportunity he had received. Along with them came their three-month-old son, John. Soon after, Hence found herself working at a local gas station as a cashier, and for a private cleaning company for homes located nearby. While becoming a member of the community over the next thirteen years, she raised her two children: John and Melissa, while her husband worked for the Village of Lake Placid. He even laid the foundation and individual bricks for the old sidewalk around Mirror Lake. Years later, in ’82, Hence gave birth to their third and last child, Ryan. This then inspired Hence to selflessly open an at-home daycare to stay with her newborn. Since then, she has welcomed in and helped raise a significant percentage of our community’s children as well. “It was the best decision I ever made,” Hence states when asked of her earliest years in the field.

On average, she cared for eight children per day, totaling nearly 150 different children throughout the past forty two years. Dating back, she had more kids on some days than others, yet found a way to make each day exciting and engaging for all ages. Hence taught young minds how to read and write, work on their perfect penmanship for when they came of age and were turning in their very first school assignments. Before that she would help each kid learn the basics: table manners, polite sayings, sharing, and the importance of basic personal information. Each kid would have their own ‘blue card’ with their first middle and last name, as well as their parents first and last names with their personal cell phone numbers alongside. Each kid would meet in the living room and be asked their mother’s phone number and what to do/who to call if something bad happened. Their address would also be included in the blue cards and they would be asked simple questions such as the color of their house, or what it looked like at first glance, to build a sense of individuality between each child. Alongside Hence was an assistant, Lisa Preston, who aided her in the inevitable chaos of childcare.

With the different groups of kids came unforgettable sayings, mannerisms and jokes. One of the biggest lessons she claims to have learned was that you have to be mindful of even the smallest things you say and do. Having such a large age gap between the so-called ‘teacher and student’ left much gray area for the young minds to grow and adapt to their ever changing minds. “I think I’ve learned that they’re very impressionable. They can sense things even from a young age,” said Hence. She believes you are who you surround yourself with so she knew she always had large shoes to fill. Influencing a younger generation is beyond difficult and Hence has undoubtedly done one of the greatest jobs at it. When asked who was her favorite and made her job the easiest, she stated that, “I’ve always felt like it wasn’t a job, it was always a passion.”

“They’re fun, you know, they keep you young. And you look forward to them,” she said with a smile. However, jokingly, she did claim that naptime was, of course, a great time of the day. Many professionals feel the same, and continuously joke of making it to that time of day. In comparison, she claimed that outdoor time was always her favorite, as well as the kids, no matter the season. Early mornings would start with breakfast and begging to run out the doors to get to their favorite toys before the next kid could, although it was only mid-fifties and still dewy out.

The largest family tree she served consisted of nine different members of the family. With that, she gained friendships with several parents and grandparents. She thinks “ninety percent” of her family’s she’s been associated with have turned into lifelong friends. For instance, she happens to join some of them in family dinners and gatherings on a regular basis. She also happens to be a part of their holiday events, and even holds her own event for everyone to join and feel welcome where they make gingerbread houses, and make holiday cookies. This day has been held annually on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Not remembering exactly when it started, “It grew and grew, everyone was at my house!” Yet she couldn’t love a tradition more. Being called a “third grandmother” and “second mom” by parents, she’s maintained a family-like relationship, rather than a boss-worker relationship. She says that’s always held a special place in her heart and it’s truly a part of the beauty of this profession. Hence wanted to care for her kids and keep notes of what each and every one of them liked. So when the holidays rolled around she could have them feel loved and appreciated. Some remember specialized gifts, rather than the same gift in multiple different colors. They stated that they still cherish those early memories and some even still have the memorabilia.

Hence has touched many souls and impacted even the minute details in young children’s lives. Many cherish these memories and fall back on them when taking a trip down memory lane. When living in a world of speed and schedules, sometimes it’s best to take a moment to reflect and realize what got you to this very point. Being one of the children she’s selflessly served, I can wholeheartedly say that we, the citizens of Lake Placid, should all strive to be more like Shirley Hence.

(Brooke Meyer just finished 10th grade at Lake Placid High School. Her English teacher was Brenden Gotham.)


This year’s Biography Writing Contest sponsors are Curtis Lumber, Duff’s Dumpsters, Down and Dirty Excavating Services LLC, Eye Peek, Hyde Fuel, Phinney Design Group, The Bookstore Plus and Tri-Lakes Federal Credit Union.

Starting at $1.44/week.

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