The Puppet Master at Wesley Homes

  What’s a good way to get and hold a child’s attention? Ask Wesley Homes Des Moines resident Joanne Partch, and she’ll point to her numerous handmade puppets. “Puppets get kids to focus,” said Joanne. “It doesn’t matter if they see my hand in the puppet or see my lips move. They’re focused on the puppet and will talk to it, not me.” As a school teacher over 47 years ago, Joanne took a puppet-making class. She didn’t know back then how much that class would influence her teaching style or her personal life. Joanne taught music and incorporated the puppets into her classes. “I taught in four schools at one time. I’d use the puppets to perform for the kids, teaching them to listen, and then I’d ask them if they wanted to do it. They’d remember everything and perform. It didn’t matter if the kids were four or 14. They loved the puppets,” said Joanne. A principal once saw Joanne teaching through a classroom window and was surprised at how well the children listened to her. He insisted on knowing her secret. Of course, the secret was the puppets. Joanne has also taught her grade and Sunday school students to make their own puppets. Once, she made a puppet stage out of a refrigerator box so they could perform a play. She’s also created a whole play’s worth of puppets to fit on one hand so she can recreate “The Farmer in the Dell” nursery rhyme. Though her collection includes pop-up puppets and marionettes, Joanne’s favorites are hand puppets. Because their heads are made of Styrofoam balls, it’s easy to change them to meet her needs. She’s had some puppets for 20 years. All it takes to change them is a little paint, paper, fabric and pins. Today, as a part-time teacher, Joanne still uses her puppets for her students, latchkey kids and her grandkids. The puppet will ask what they’re doing or tell them it’s lunchtime, and they’ll respond to the puppet. School nurses have been known to thank Joanne for calming a screaming child. “They forget what they’re crying about when they see a puppet,” she said. At Wesley Homes, Joanne has found a new niche for her puppets. “I make walking stick puppets for the Wesley hikers. The sticks are still useful, but now they’re fun and are real attention getters,” she said. Joanne has never sold a puppet and sometimes talks to them. “They’re fun and never sass me back,” she laughed.

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