By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
For hundreds of children, hers was the face that smiled at them every Sunday morning.
In the 33 years that Marlene Wagnon was there, pastor Jeff Loudin said the nursery at Taylor's Valley Baptist Church in Temple was a happy one.
'She loves the kids, and the kids love her,' Loudin said. 'She has been an incredible blessing to us.'
Her career ended earlier this month with an Oct. 18 retirement celebration. The church presented her a formal black plaque, thanking her for her three decades of service.
A special guest at the ceremony, Temple Mayor Bill Jones III gave Mrs. Wagnon an honorary certificate - something that Mrs. Wagnon said was very much a surprise.
That certificate says, 'Marlene Wagnon is well-known for the loving care she as bestowed upon the children who were entrusted to her care and protection over the years.'
More precious to her, though, are children. 'It's been a privilege to be able to come into contact with so many of God's precious children,' Mrs. Wagnon said, adding that her line of work - childcare - is a special service to her Lord.
When Mrs. Wagnon thinks about her three decades in the church nursery, she said a fleet of faces floods her mind.
'There's been so many,' Mrs. Wagnon said. 'I've kept the babies of the babies I kept when I first started.'
Several of the parents from the Taylor's Valley congregation described Mrs. Wagnon as a figure of safety and stability.
'When we moved here, we were visiting all the churches, and one of the things we were always worried about was where we were going to leave the children,' said Cherie Stroahmeyer of Temple, mother of two children, now 1 and 4.
She said the youngest was a newborn when her family was searching for a church home.
'They were small,' Mrs. Stroahmeyer said. 'And I wanted to feel comfortable with the people I left them with.'
Her search turned out to be difficult, she said, because most of the churches they visited were larger and always had different people working in the nursery.
'Then we found Taylor's Valley, and Marlene was there every Sunday,' Mrs. Stroahmeyer said. 'My kids love her.'
Her 4-year-old is now in the older kids' nursery, too big for Mrs. Wagnon's nursery for newborns, 1- and 2-year-olds, but Mrs. Stroahmeyer said he still prefers to start his Sunday morning off with Mrs. Wagnon. To him, she said, if there's church, there should be Mrs. Wagnon.
Children in the Taylor's Valley nursery haven't always been divided into age groups. Mrs. Wagner said the split happened about three years ago because of a major increase in the number of children and babies. The newborn nursery can now accommodate 22 babies, she said.
A good sense of humor is another of Mrs. Wagnon's many assets, said Traceylyn Chudej of Academy, the mother of four children at Taylor's Valley.
'We were with her all the time,' Mrs. Chudej said, laughing. 'There's not a doubt in my mind she remembers us. We were the ones who went through 12 diapers in an hour.'
Not unlike Mrs. Stroahmeyer's youngster, 14-year-old Kolton Spinn of Holland, hasn't outgrown his pal at the nursery. His mother, Pauline Spinn, said Kolton still goes by the nursery at least once a week to visit Mrs. Wagnon and the other workers there.
'I'm so lucky to know Marlene,' Mrs. Spinn said. 'She's a special lady - a soft-spoken angel. I never felt bad about leaving my babies with her.'
Mrs. Spinn's second child is 17.
Mrs. Wagnon's 8-year-old granddaughter, Jordan Ross, contributed to her decision to leave her post at the nursery.
'She's getting big enough now to where she can sit in the regular church service,' Mrs. Wagnon said. 'I feel like I need to be there for her to sit in the pew with her.'
Jordan's 4-month-old brother, James, also had a bit to with grandma's retirement.
'He's still at the nursery,' Mrs. Wagnon said. 'It's important for him to be in contact with other people and get used to that.'
Her absence at the nursery will help Jordan achieve that goal, Mrs. Wagnon said, adding she'll enjoy spending her extra time with friends and family.
Mrs. Wagnon isn't going too far, though. She'll continue to teach Sunday school classes and participate in the youth department's various other recreational activities.
'Taking care of children is something I love to do.'