Valdosta Daily Times

November 5, 2013

Miss Sara's Farewell

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — As the eldest sibling of 11 children and the mother of four children, one might think that Sara Hendrix would have had her fill of raising youngsters at an early age, but these experiences were only the prelude to her career raising generations of Valdosta and Lowndes County children.

Last month, after decades of leading kindergartens and daycares, including her own daycare for 21 years, the woman known as Miss Sara to everyone from small children to grandparents closed her facility on Bemiss Road and retired.

During a reception at First United Methodist Church in Downtown Valdosta, dozens of youngsters and former youngsters wished her well. Lowndes County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter and Valdosta City Councilman Ben Norton each presented Hendrix with a respective proclamation from the county and the city.

And still, with all of those years of child-raising behind her, all of the years of screaming voices and scraped knees, of broken toys and runny noses, of diapers and spilled food, Miss Sara hopes for more. She would love to visit other daycares to lead children in stories and songs.

She grew up Sara Sewell, the eldest child of Bill and Verna Lee Sewell. As a child, she learned one of life’s golden rules from her parents’ examples: If you take care of yourself, you can help care for others. She recalls her father helping neighbors in need, whether with money or feeding them. Her parents helped the people around them while raising a large family.

Miss Sara says her mother was beautiful and so were her mother’s babies. Young Sara loved being with her little brothers and sisters.

Sara loved raising her children with husband Ralph Hendrix. She stayed home with the children while he worked. With her children in school, she was soon being asked to help raise other small children.

In the 1960s, Clela Sessions asked Hendrix to teach at Lee Street Baptist Church. As time passed, Hendrix taught kindergarten, too, at Azalea City Baptist Church (now Crossroads) and Morningside Baptist Church. Each time, she was asked to participate; each time, she answered the call. By the early 1990s, she opened her Miss Sara’s daycare at the Bemiss Road address that had once been her, Ralph, and their children’s home.

Miss Sara, the proprietor, and Miss Sara, the daycare, were great believers in letting children be children. Hendrix would tell her client parents, “If you don’t want your child to get dirty, you’ve got the wrong daycare.” Children received instruction, but they also played inside and outside. Miss Sara parents were accustomed to knocking sand out of their children’s shoes each day, grit accumulated from the giant sandlot visible from Bemiss Road. Children played with toys. They colored with crayons. They sang songs, listened to stories, and were introduced to the messy business of society as youngsters learned to get along with one another in those years between infancy and starting school.

For 17 years, Diane Schmidt watched the daycare’s infants. Each day, either Miss Sara or Miss Diane, both, one or the other, were there. For parents picking up their children each afternoon, a regular sight was Miss Sara sitting in her rocking chair, a small child tucked in her arms. There is a video from a few years ago, one that appeared on her family Facebook sites, a video of Miss Sara flexing a surprisingly spry, bulging bicep for a woman in her late 70s then, a bicep built from years of cradling and carrying youngsters throughout her daycare. A strength to move and do, child in her arms, but as gentle as a crib, snug against the lullaby thrum of her heartbeat.

Yet, sitting down with her, two weeks after her daycare closed, Miss Sara says she misses all of the babies and little children. She talks about all of the people who have helped her through the years, from her parents to the people who first asked her to teach kindergartens and run daycares to her husband, Ralph, who prepared their former home to become her daycare center and visiting with her and the children and often preparing the children’s lunches, to her family members who helped run the daycare to Miss Diane to the people who held the reception for her.

While the reception honored her, it is all of these people from her past to the present, from the parents to their children, whom Miss Sara honors.