The woman who traditionally bakes cookies, bandages boo-boos, tells her kids to pick up their bedrooms and so much more. Many people mature, leave home and then see their parents occasionally.
The three mothers in this story all have their daughters beside them in the workplace. The three daughters are all very grateful to have their mothers there, learning life’s lessons – even as adults.
Vicki Bird sits behind the front desk at DeShawne Bird-Sell’s law office, filing paperwork and answering the phones for her daughter.
“My answer is always ‘I know nothing’,” Bird said. “DeShawne knows everything about this.”
Sell laughed, “It is so much fun at my office, it’s not even considered work.”
The pair compliment each other. Where Sell has a drive and ability to do what’s legally right, Bird has the drive and ability to do what’s right in her heart.
Since the early 1980s, Bird has coordinated the Love Tree, which distributes gifts of clothing and toys to children who would otherwise have nothing for Christmas. It’s work she is passionate about.
“The thought of someone not having a Christmas, it just breaks my heart,” Bird said, her eyes shining. “Although I do think one of my most memorable Christmases was when an 87-year-old lady wanted a bird for Christmas, and there was a snow storm. There I was, standing in panty hose and boots, then one boot came off, so I was wearing one boot, holding a bird in one hand, and a bird cage in the other … but to see that lady’s face when she got her Christmas wish was worth it.”
Sell has been by her side through all these Christmases from junior high to the present – shopping with her, delivering gifts, and watching her mother in complete awe.
“She’s tireless!” Sell exclaimed. “I’ve never seen anyone who can do the amount she does in 24 hours.”
What Bird does is give. Give up to 14 hours a day during the holiday season organizing, taking calls, making lists and shopping. She once pleaded with Pamida to stay open when someonehanded her the name of a needy family as she was shopping for her own Christmas dinner late one Christmas Eve.
“I have definitely learned the art of multitasking, perseverance and hard work,” Sell said.
Sell, herself, joins her mother in this venture every year, as does the rest of the family.
“I love spending time with my mom,” she said. “It’s a solid month out of every year, and I am not kidding, we talk the whole time.”
Through having her kids help, Sell is teaching them that same compassion, although she gives
credit to her mother.
“My kids can’t wait for Love Tree every year,” Sell said. “We go to a store, even in the summer, and they say, ‘we should get 10 of those for Love Tree!’”
Carolee Heath has always been a community leader. She was a long-time teacher for Glenwood High School, where she also coached the flag team for the band.
These days, she works in the community in a different way. Heath spends six mornings a week standing behind the counter at the local coffee shop, taking orders for coffee and bakery items she has made herself. The shop belongs to her daughter, Patti (Heath) Cahanding, and Patti’s husband, Ron, but Carolee has been there since she retired – literally.
“I retired on a Friday in 2007, and I started on that next Monday.” Heath said. “I was supposed to just help out at lunch, but then I started to open, because I was the only one who liked to get up early.”
She isn’t always behind the counter. She often sits down and has coffee with her customers, although Heath and Cahanding don’t think of them as customers.
“These are our friends, our neighbors.” Cahanding said. “The best times and craziest times are Homecoming, when we get to see and talk to everyone.”
The pair run the shop as though they are serving coffee in their own living room, except they can’t quite do that.
“Sometimes the way I do things at home is not always the way I need to do it for the restaurant business,” Heath said. “But I’ve learned along the way.”
“We wouldn’t be able to run this the same way if we were in the city,” Cahanding said. “I’m sure it would be a much different atmosphere.”
“You definitely hear a lot,” Heath said. “It goes in one ear and out the other. The level of humor is different than in the school – it can be more sarcastic. Sometimes the subject matter is more adult – people often talk about politics.”
The pair said the time they get to spend with each other is the best part about working together. The pair are so close that Cahanding sometimes has to think about what she needs to tell her employee.
“It’s a hard balance between mom and business,” Cahanding said. “I have to ask myself what would a daughter say, and what would a boss say.”
Cahanding may be the owner, but Heath is still the mom.
“Once we walk out the door, we’re out of the shop,” Cahanding continued. “Other than a gentle reminder of ‘we need coffee, or don’t forget we need cups.’ ”
“She doesn’t need a smart phone,” Heath laughed. “She has a smart mom!”
Monica Hughes often drops by Jim Hughes Real Estate office with snacks and a friendly hello. It’s all part of her unofficial job as “office mother,” which isn’t a hard job for her - six of the real estate agents in the office are relatives.
Hughes’ daughter, Anne (Hughes) Steele, is one of those agents. Steele both sells houses and stages them for sales. Hughes also stages houses for sales.
The tall, thin brunette credits Hughes for her friendliness.
“Growing up, I always saw mom be such a good front to this business, it’s been such a great example,” Steele said. “She taught us to always be nice to people, and I hope we have all learned that from her.”
“We” refers to family, and Hughes’ definition of family extends to everyone in the real estate office.
“I have to brag on everyone who works here because they are all such hard workers,” Hughes said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t have someone’s kids or grandkids stop by.”
Working with family members does have its advantages.
“You know someone’s going to be honest with you when you’re working with your family,” Steele said. “You definitely get sympathy from your mom when you’re sick.”
“Jim and I feel very blessed to have this family-owned business,” Hughes said.
Steele and Hughes spend hours together each week at work – and they also attend Holy Rosary church at the same time.
“I think Mom and Dad have done a great job of keeping us close to the church,” Steele said. “It’s funny, there’s three different service times, but the Hughes’ all end up at Mass at the same time each week.”
That’s fine by Monica, who is very devoted to her faith.
“I give full credit to the church for everyone being able to get along,” said Hughes, who hosts students at her home every Wednesday for Faith Formation meetings and helps with the Holy Rosary Adoration Committee.
Monica’s large, affable family has now extended to the next generation. Steele has two boys, Ryan, age 1, and Colin, age 5.
“I don’t know how mom did it,” Steele said of raising a large family. “I have two boys, and she had four. Boys can take up so much energy … but, any time I have a bad day at home, I think wow.”
The mother-daughter duo have been able to spend some time alone over the years.
“We did the mother-daughter fashion show for Coatneys years ago,” Steele remembered.