By Noah Roberts
If you have been anywhere around the Hesston College education department for the last 30 years, then you have probably ran into Tami Keim. She has been deeply involved in education at Hesston. In the mornings, she runs the Hesston College Preschool. Then in the afternoons she heads across the street to teach Early Childhood Education classes and advise education students at the college. This will be her last year teaching as she is retiring at the end of the school year. Since her 32-year stint teaching at Hesston College is coming to a close, I sat down with her to find out more about what has influenced her career.
While Tami has dedicated the majority of her life to education, that wasn’t always her plan. She went to Hesston College planning on attending for only a year to experience what college was like and then move on with her life. Instead, Tami finished her two years at Hesston and a foundation for a lifetime in education was built. During her first year at Hesston, Professor Phil Osborne encouraged her to take Introduction to Education. Osborne taught the class and wanted Tami to experience an education class. He worked to convince her, but this was a tough task since Tami was convinced she didn’t want to teach in a typical classroom setting such as elementary school. So in order for her to take Intro to Education, they came up with a deal. Instead of doing the regular practicum for the class of attending a classroom twice a week, Tami would start a preschool on campus and get her hours there. Along with another college student, Tami started a preschool which consisted mainly of the children of teachers and faculty members at the college. They met twice a week for a few hours each time. This was Tami’s first experience in a preschool.
Tami left Hesston after two years and married her husband Howard at the young age of 19. They moved back to Howard’s hometown in Michigan, and Tami began working in a fabric store. After working there for about a year and a half, it was clear to her this wasn’t her passion. She was encouraged by her husband Howard and a family friend, Evelyn Rouner, to go back to school and earn her bachelors at Central Michigan University. She then continued her education and earned her master’s in Child and Family Studies with an emphasis in preschool. Dr. Evelyn Rouner taught a number of her classes and became an important mentor for her.
When she graduated from CMU, she had the opportunity to start a preschool in Fairview, a small town in Michigan. She called the preschool “Little People’s Land.” Her reason for choosing that name for the preschool gives insight into her heart as a teacher: “I’m not sure how I came up with the name, but I liked this name because it emphasized that they were people.” This is a core value that drives the Hesston College Preschool many years later. Tami is passionate about treating the children with respect and honor no matter their age. She realizes that this is a vital time in their development, not only as students, but more importantly as human beings. Little People’s Land was started on a $500 donation that Tami stretched to cover everything she needed. Along with some help with the carpentry, Tami designed and created everything needed to get the preschool up and running on the strict budget. Not only did she stick to the budget provided by the donation, but she paid back the donation in monthly payments of $25.
Tami worked at the preschool for 3 and a half years while her husband was the youth pastor at a local church. Along with running the preschool, she drove 50 miles one way to teach education classes at the high school. When their time in Michigan came to an end, Tami and her husband moved to Iowa where she became a stay-at-home mom. At this point, Tami didn’t believe she would ever go back to teaching. After staying at home for a period of time, Tami earned a certificate to deliver babies, still thinking she was done with teaching. God had other plans. A job opened up in Kalona, Iowa to direct and run a preschool. Tami decided to get back into teaching and took the job. Interestingly, Tami didn’t have any of these steps planned out but simply decided to trust God wherever he chose to lead her.
Tami and her husband stayed in Iowa for seven years until 1987 when they both took jobs back at Hesston College where they met. Howard became the head of the Pastoral Ministries Program while Tami ran the preschool and taught education classes at the college. Other than when she went on sabbatical leave in to get her masters at Kansas State University in Early Childhood Education in 2000, this is where she has been ever since.
It’s easy to see the impact Tami has had on the preschool as well as the college in her 32 years spent here. The preschool allows children from the community to enjoy an experience with teachers who not only care about the men and women they will develop into but also the people they are the second they walk through the doors. The preschool is a welcoming environment that encourages learning on various levels. From learning how to read the calendar, to evaluating the weather, to learning how to interact and cooperate in a group, so much is offered to these young students. While I have observed the tremendous impact on the preschoolers, I have also benefited immensely as a college student because of Tami and the preschoolers. This experience has given me the opportunity to learn from the children on a weekly basis about how to approach life and how to love and care for people the way Jesus does. I have seen the preschoolers innocently question everything with an open mind to learn. I have seen them seek out those who are hurting for the sole purpose of lifting them up, whether it’s a teacher or a fellow student. I have witnessed them begin to comprehend what it means to love one another and look out for each other as children of God. I have also seen the young people work through conflict and enjoy one another in a genuine way that can often be absent in one’s everyday life as a college student.
I believe that Tami has not only left her imprint on the preschool and the education department at Hesston College, but her influence also carries on in every one of her college students as they leave Hesston and carry on life in other places. It is impossible to hear her story and not see that she has put her faith in God’s words in Isaiah 55:9 where it says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I am very thankful for the impact Tami and the children at the Hesston College Preschool have made on me . I pray that I can learn more about what it means to seek and question God as his innocent little child.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
— Matthew 18:1-5