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It’s All Work and No Play

I wrote this feature article for the Sandusky Register three months after graduating from journalism school at Ohio University. I covered two counties south of Sandusky reporting on news and taking photos.

It’s All Work And No Play

by Bob Kinney

First published in Sandusky Register on June 26, 1969

Celeryville, Ohio – Rosanna Rodriguez is 12 years old.

Every day she takes care of her three brothers and sisters from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon.

She, like the other temporary residents of the Celeryville muck, needs help.

Watching younger brothers and sisters is a full time job … girls like Rosanna grow up early.

“I hope we have a center soon,” Rosanna said as her baby sister squirmed in her arms. “I have to take care of three kids when my mother is working. They’re driving me crazy and they never do what I tell them to.”

The child-woman told the Register, “I never have any fun.”

In another two years Rosanna will be able to leave her full time unpaid babysitting job. But then she’ll spend her summers picking celery nearly every day.

Roseanna’s charges are just a few of half a hundred children that swarm restlessly around the Buurma Brothers migrant labor camp every day.

Most of them are under seven years old and are watched by a small handful of slightly older children like Roseanna – not quite old enough to work in the fields, but wise enough beyond their years to care for a mob of children.

The babysitters’ parents and older brothers and sisters spend their days in the nearby fields, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and half-days Saturdays. While the field work goes on the pre-teens like Rosanna watch the youngest children.

A few mothers stay at the camp, but only to care for their infant babies.

The camp, composed of about 25 white-washed, cement block apartment duplexes, has no swing-sets or any other recreational facility for the children.

The kids amuse themselves all day by throwing stones in puddles and inventing and playing games like suburban kids. The only difference is that migrant kids have no toys or props.

A series of muddy, mucky ponds are within a child’s walking distance from the camp. A small child could easily stray from his playmates, wander over to the ponds, and accidentally fall in without anyone knowing it. No one has drowned yet, but the fear of such a danger constantly haunts Rosanna and her fellow sitters.

A mob like this is enough to wear out a couple dozen babysitters … but a handful of adolescents have to be able to handle them all.

The Willard Community Action Center is trying to establish a year-round day care center for the children. Meetings have been held since February, planning a day care center, but nothing yet has happened.

The group, headed by Mrs. Lester Seward, first of all, needs a building to house the center. After two Celeryville churches turned them down, the Celeryville Reformed Chapel may allow the group the use of its parsonage.

Recreation is sparse at the migrant camp … time passes like stones thrown in mud puddles.

Joe Benn and Karen Lee, of the Willard Center, went with Frank Buurma and other owners of the Buurma Brothers farm, to visit the camp Wednesday.

“They could see a need for a day care center and are in favor of the project,” Benn said.

The Buurma family agreed to work with the Willard Center for the opening of a day care center.

The group has requested a $3,000 grant through the Erie-Huron Counties Community Action Program in Sandusky. If the grant is approved it would provide for the operation of a day care center for six months, 5-1/2 days a week. Two full-time teachers and numerous aides would be recruited for the project.

Residents of the camp say a day care center is needed very much. “I feel we do need a center because there’s a lot of kids running around here that nobody’s taking care of,” Mrs. Juanita Luna said. “Only two mothers stay here in the camp. The rest work,” she said.

“There’s a need for this program,” Mrs. Adam Garcia said. “You can’t take the kids out into the fields and a center would help.”

– 30 –

photo captions <except last one below> reprinted from the newspaper article

Happy to report that when the migrant folks came back the following season they had a center and the kids had a playground with swings and slides.

All Bob Kinney photos except last one

Playground or Death Trap … A child’s walk from home … no one has drowned yet, but there’s always the lingering fear.

Saying Good-bye to Bob as he leaves the camp.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Great story Bob, though every time I heard Sandusky I thought of the Michigan town not too far from where I grew up. In the 80s and 90s we still had migrant labor camps with no facilities or help for childcare etc, especially around the strawberry farms.

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