Upon reading the biographical story “Cheaper by the Dozen,” Marilyn McMahon knew she wanted to have at least a dozen children of her own.

Upon reading the biographical story “Cheaper by the Dozen,” Marilyn McMahon knew she wanted to have at least a dozen children of her own.

Marilyn and her husband had two biological daughters before they separated. So, from 1965 to 1986, the Independence resident fulfilled her dream another way: She provided a home to about 60 foster children.

A native of Imlay City, Mich., McMahon moved to Independence when she and her husband were transferred because of their work with General Motors. In 1965, the certified teacher and registered nurse started her company, which provides care for children, special needs adults and senior residents. After nearly 50 years of operating A1 Tiny Tots Nanny & Sitting Services, McMahon says she owes her parents for her lifelong natural motherly instincts.

And, at age 72, McMahon says she has no intentions of slowing down or retiring. Ten years ago, a mastectomy laid her off of her feet for a mere couple of days – and McMahon says she nearly went crazy from wanting to stay busy.

“I’m not helpless yet, and a lot of people need me yet,” she says. “I’m a helper person. As long as I’m able … God blesses me to be in good shape. Why shouldn’t I keep going?”


Marilyn McMahon flips over her business card to show the motto that she lives by:

“Priorities... A hundred years from now,

It will not matter what my bank account was,

The sort of house I lived in,

Or the kind of car I drove –

But the world may be different

Because I was important in the life of a child.”

Independence resident Barb Thompson can attest to the difference McMahon has made in at least one child’s life. In 1978, Thompson was the single mother of a 2-year-old girl in need of daycare services when she found McMahon’s contact information in the telephone book.

Thompson says she fell behind on her electric bills, so her sister baby-sat her daughter while Thompson caught up on her payments. When she got caught up, Thompson placed her daughter in McMahon’s care again, and this cycle continued for sometime.

One day, McMahon asked why Thompson was pulling her daughter out of her care, and Thompson explained. In return, McMahon reduced Thompson’s weekly childcare payments, and Thompson helped out in the preschool in return. McMahon even took Thompson and her daughter under her roof at one point until the young mother got back on her feet.

Without McMahon’s help, Thompson says, things could have turned out poorly with her daughter. Instead, she earned her GED and has a stable job in customer service. And Barb Thompson and McMahon have remained close friends for more than 30 years, with Thompson now helping out A1 Tiny Tots.

“It’s very important that we teach these children as much as we can when we’ve got them when they’re little, so that they’ll turn out to be good citizens and nice people when they’ll grow up,” says McMahon, whose business also provides sitting services at large conventions and in hotel settings.

She laughs.

“And maybe I’ll be helpless one day – I hope not!” she says. “They might help somebody back, whether it be me or somebody else.”


She’s a teacher and a provider, but McMahon also is a survivor.

In the spring of 2001, McMahon was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following her mastectomy, she says, McMahon felt fine. She remembered seeing a woman “who was in so much worse shape” after an accident – and all McMahon could think was, “I want to get up and help her. I was OK!”

Her surgery took place on a Tuesday, and by that Saturday, McMahon says, she was back to work. She didn’t have to endure radiation or chemotherapy treatments and has remained cancer-free ever since.

In August, McMahon placed first – and 362nd overall among more than 1,600 runners – in the female age 65 and older category at the Komen Kansas City Race for the Cure 5K. Her time of 25 minutes, 27 seconds – or roughly 8:13 per mile – placed her fourth among the 27 breast cancer survivor runners.

McMahon has curly, bright red hair with matching eyeglass frames that complement her seemingly endless energy. She keeps a trampoline in her backyard. McMahon describes a photograph taken about two years ago in which she is about 3 feet in the air, her arms are out, “and you can’t tell how old I am.”

Other than that, she just “runs and hurries” to everywhere she goes.

She is always on the go, working from 6 a.m. to midnight most days, but McMahon maintains her long-standing relationships. In 1970, she began baby-sitting a 9-year-old boy named Bill Wilson. Wilson was a child in a single-parent household after his adopted mother died. Today, at 50, Wilson – a self-described “slow learner” – has a part-time job at Wendy’s and has gone through vocational rehabilitation with McMahon’s aid.

She takes him to shows at Starlight Theatre and makes him checklists of daily hygiene practices he should maintain. Wilson describes McMahon as “easy to get along with – at times.”

McMahon goes and listens to Wilson participate in one of his favorite hobbies: Karaoke.

“He’s like my little kid, still, you know,” McMahon says. “And he grumbles at me, too: ‘Just leave me alone.’

“But he has a heart of gold, and he would give you the shirt off of his back.”

Perhaps he learned that from McMahon, who is seemingly giving of everything she has to others.