When Jackie Ness was a child development major at North Dakota State University, she did a short internship at Flynn Child Care in north Fargo.
After graduation, she spent about a year working at a center for emotionally troubled children in Texas.
"That was long enough," Ness recalled. "There were burglar bars everywhere. They wouldn't deliver pizzas where I worked."
She returned to Fargo and bought the Flynn Child Care center.
That was 21 years ago.
Friday, Ness closed her doors for good.
She cited rising costs and the difficulty of finding qualified employees who will work for $7 an hour and no benefits.
The center is licensed to handle 36 children, from infants to 12-years-olds, but recently Ness and her staff of about 10 have been caring for about 25 kids.
The upstairs houses older children, she said, while the basement is where her "ankle-biters" play.
Ness loves the families and feels fortunate to have had great workers over the years (she's only had to fire one), but she said the effort of keeping up the center has become too much.
"I can't do it anymore," said Ness, who wasn't letting the impending change dim the cheerful way she talks to the kids.
"These are my two oldest ones - Kate and Joseph - they're my school kids," Ness said, introducing a pair of youngsters who had come in from outside and were shrugging out of winter coats.
"Kate was mad at me when I decided to close my day care. She got in my car and yelled at me, didn't you Kate?" Ness said, chuckling at the memory.
Kate smiled shyly and headed off to see what the other kids were doing.
"I'm kind of ready for a slowdown," Ness said of the closing.
Although the center will be no more after today, Ness will continue to care for about seven children out of her own home.
"I'm not quitting the kids yet," she said.
Half a dozen or so child care centers have closed in the area in the past year, but according to Ness the shutdowns are not necessarily indicative of widespread problems.
She said some of the businesses were relatively new and may not have been able to meet expenses such as rent.
Dede Wienckowski, a child care licensing specialist with Cass County Social Services, agreed. She is unaware of any other child care centers that plan to close in the near future.
Wienckowski said she's unaware of any that plan to open, either.
Ness said small operations similar to hers may face the same issues she's had to deal with, such as keeping ahead of rising costs for things such as food and help.
She is aware of an effort in the North Dakota Legislature to require criminal background checks on all day care workers, but said it has not been an issue for her.
"A lot of my staff have been kids who came here when they were little," she said.
She also said many of those she cared for when they were children are now leaving their kids with her.
Ness realized closing the center could be a blow to many families. To give parents time to adjust, she gave them three weeks' notice.
So long, neighbor
When the center is gone, part of the neighborhood's identity will disappear with it.
"We go to the VA (Fargo's Veterans Affairs Medical Center) and visit the veterans," Ness said. "We'll walk there for Halloween and Christmas. It's been a great community thing."
Ness said that over the years she has tried not to tell parents how to parent, though she will give advice when asked for it.
In recent years, she said she has seen parenting skills slip somewhat in some families, but said it could be due to the economic pressures parents face.
"It's the hardest job in the world, and there's no training for it," she said.