Kathy Harens

“I think my life has always been so God driven, because I just end up in places. It’s not a plan, I didn’t come out and announce, this is what I’m going to do! I just knew, I was always going to help people.”


Kathy Harens is a dynamo. One of those rare people that can do absolutely anything and be wildly successful. A literal Jill of all trades. Kathy has worked steadily since she was a teenager and has had a wide variety of career experiences. These ranged from working for the Pierre County Courthouse and Assistant Director of Equalization, to the front manager at Rexall Drug store in Yankton. She transformed from a favorite, licensed, in-home child care provider of eleven years, to the director of the childcare at Mount Marty College, for an astounding twenty one years more.

She first began working with children at the Helen Buchanan School, while a freshman in high school. Kathy worked as a special education assistant, and created bonds so strong with the staff that they hosted her engagement shower there. She continued to volunteer her time there as a member of the Future Teachers Association for four years afterwards and “absolutely loved it”. She has always retained a deep affection for special education from this foundation. While gaining invaluable experience there, Kathy knew that being a teacher wasn’t her ultimate calling though.

Kathy says she’s an open book, and I can vouch that her book of life memories has volumes. In all of her stories, Kathy’s husband Paul, is a consistent, iron thread that runs throughout. They met in Huron and married when she was nineteen, and he was twenty one. They had dated for a year and Paul had just graduated from college. Kathy chuckles as she states, “That was forty five years ago, and we’re still here, hanging around together.” She recalls them making six changes of residence in six years. “We were professional moving people. We lived like gypsies, it was an adventure!

Kathy and her husband “were blessed to have 5 years BC – life before children”, while living in Pierre. “Paul had his first teaching job, and they had five years to grow up. It was a lot of fun, we met lots of really interesting people.” Kathy often received better job offers in the course of her current employment. She is naturally a people person and always really enjoyed wherever she worked. Others who met her couldn’t help but be impressed by her enthusiasm and special spark. They would get to know her and say, “You should come work for me”, and she usually did.

After the birth of their first son, Michael, Paul got offered a job in Vermillion working for USD with the opportunity to get his Masters in teaching. They jumped on the opportunity and sold their house in one day. They lived temporarily in a trailer for ten months. It was a bit of a trial because the Harens didn’t know that there was no air conditioning, the furnace was leaky, and had other assorted maladies ahead of time. Fortunately after making wonderful friends and having a terrific time, they soon moved to Yankton. It was there that they added another son, Nathan, to their small family and owned a house of their own.


The decision to get into childcare full time came about as a need she heard about through a family member. An Aunt told Kathy about a woman she knew who was a single mom and had adopted three young Native American children, and couldn’t find anyone willing to take care of them while she was at work. Kathy stepped up for this family and became a licensed provider. Racism appeared even in her own childcare. The mother of one of her regular families, unexpectedly left a note on the door and moved her children somewhere else. Afterwards Kathy heard it through the grapevine that the mother had said it was because “Kathy was taking those kinds of children.” “It really broke my heart. I never saw that coming. I couldn’t believe that the care of someone’s children depended on the color of someone’s skin.” Kathy’s always embraced diversity and says, “Kids see in technicolor, they don’t care about color. They might notice differences in hair or skin, but they just don’t care.” Kathy easily found another family to join her childcare afterwards, and kept on going stronger than ever.

Kathy returned to college as a non-traditional student at Mount Marty when she was thirty seven years old. She started taking a class each semester while simultaneously running her child care business. It didn’t take long before she was hooked. She worried about how long it would take and the expense, to which Paul said, “We can’t afford not to. I’m not going to have you be sixty years old saying woulda, shoulda, coulda!” She remembers how it was very hard to go to school full time, and say good bye to her child care families. “There were a lot of tears, but they threw me a big party, and they were happy I was going back to school.” She graduated in 1995, with a selective studies degree with early childcare education and a business minor.

In 1997 Kathy received an unexpected call from the Mount. Word had gotten around about her experience with kids and the campus child care center was in dire need of a new director. Her first day was Halloween, and there were twelve children at the time. Once people heard Kathy was the new director at Mount Marty, the enrollment quickly rose. The college center began as a resource for the children of students, and Native American people in 1973. The cost was fifty cents a day, and they had to bring their own lunch. Sr. Ann Fasbender was the director for the first twenty three years. The original center was situated in a barn near the water tower, but then moved into what is now called the Bistro on campus. Then in the late 70’s it was moved to its present location, in the Corby building, which previously held dorm rooms for girls. Times have changed and the center occasionally has some rare openings for the general public, if it works within the child care’s hours of operation. Kathy has been to countless weddings and graduations and has even had the offspring of children she’s cared for previously. She constantly runs into people that she’d changed their diapers in years past. She says the main reason she’s on Facebook, is to keep up with her kids, families and past students that have helped in the childcare.

Kathy has had six full time assistants at the center during her tenure. Kathy Lawrence has been her main assistant for the past six years. When the kids used to get confused in how to differentiate between the two Kathys, ideas abounded. The children had lots of suggestions, “How about Kathy one and Kathy two, or tall Kathy and short Kathy, big Kathy and small Kathy? How about old Kathy and younger Kathy? Finally a child said, “How about Kathy the original?”

Kathy thought that this idea was the best of all. She is definitely an original.

Kathy is now excited to embark on new challenges and has decided to retire at the end of the school year in May 2019. She’s already been an active member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, whose motto is “Unity and Charity”, but has plans to become a member of CASA: Child Advocate Services Association, and will volunteer for them also. She anticipates giving more of her time in the service of others. She wants to visit nursing homes and to play cards or Bingo with residents. She wants to be available if her church, Sacred Heart, asks her to bake a cake, or give someone a much needed ride to an appointment. She loves being busy doing lots of new and varied things. While many people will be very sad about her leaving the college and she will be very much missed, Kathy is proud to have had such a fantastic career helping so many families care for their children. Whoever is the next childcare director will have a hard time beating this exemplary woman’s example, and they will never be like Kathy, the Original