No matter their mood, the kids always got excited when the car pulled up to the house of Renee Sue Lureen, whom they affectionately called “NeNe.”

“She was like a mom to every one of those children,” said Karen Lee, a co-worker of Lureen’s. “And even to me at times.”

Lureen, who ran a small child care business out of her home in Shakopee for almost 20 years, died suddenly May 28 from a heart condition. She was 60.

After graduating from Burnsville High School, Lureen worked for the Minneapolis School District, helping with a program that assisted single mothers while they attended classes. That job evolved into a life and career dedicated to providing for children: Lureen raised a number of foster kids and eventually became a self-employed child care provider.

On a typical workday, parents would start dropping off kids at her Shakopee duplex as early as 6 a.m. The backyard was filled with toys and climbers and “anything a kid could imagine,” Lee said.

Then the children would spend the day following Lureen’s agenda, usually jam-packed with circle time, arts and crafts, and other forms of educational fun.

“She just put all of herself into them,” said Amanda Clark, who sent her two young sons to Lureen’s. “She went above and beyond.”

Because she loved horses just as much as children, three days a week Lureen would wake up even earlier than usual to deliver breakfast to the grooms and workers at the stable.

“She was just born with this innate ability to know what animals are thinking, and kids, too,” said Lureen’s sister-in-law and longtime friend, Andie Wiek.

Growing up, Lureen lived in Eagan on a property with enough space for her family’s horses and ponies. She proved to have a knack for competitive riding at a young age. A few years down the road, she placed 13th in the nation in show jumping with her horse, Four on the Floor.

“She was just one of a handful of people from Minnesota that have ridden in Madison Square Garden,” Wiek said.

The secret to her success? Lureen was a “horse whisperer,” according to Wiek. “It was like she could see things from their point of view,” she said.

While cleaning out barn stalls, Lureen would lie down to test the pile of shavings on the ground. If it wasn’t comfortable for her, it wouldn’t be comfortable for the horses either.

Others would come to Lureen to figure out what was wrong with their own horses. She bought her filly, BlinkersOnLetHerRip, because the owner couldn’t figure how to train the animal to conquer its fear of gates. Now the horse is winning races at Canterbury Park.

“She could just help you understand real simply what you needed to do with your horse to fix whatever issues you were having,” Wiek said. “That’s just who she was. She always wanted to make a person’s life better and an animal’s life better.”

Lureen’s day-care kids got to share her love for animals. She’d often take some along to the barn for a field trip, or if their parents needed to pick them up a few hours late.

“She would support us individually in any way possible,” Clark said. “It just didn’t matter, there was no limit to what she did. She quickly became an extension of our family and, really, a second mom.”

Lureen is survived by her husband, John, of Shakopee; her mother, Aleene Brown, of Eden Prairie; sisters Colleen Sheahan of Port Townsend, Wash., Laurie Norland of San Diego and Gina Low of San Francisco; and brother Scott Wiek of Prior Lake. Services have been held.