July 21, 2018

A mom and dad who made a world of difference

This photo, taken back in 1978, shows Dorothy and Bob DeBolt with some of the kids they adopted. It speaks for itself. LATimes photo.

This photo, dated 1978, shows Dorothy and Bob DeBolt with some of the kids they adopted. It speaks for itself, doesn’t it– about the kinds of kids they took in, and the happiness of  the kids?LATimes photo.

Newport Beach, CA – I just read an obituary in the Los Angeles Times that is so incredible—and so wonderful in this cynical and materialistic age–that I feel I should share it with you.

It the story of a woman, excuse me, a lady, Dorothy DeBolt, born in 1903, who had a heart bigger than a watermelon. Obviously a lady in the finest sense of the word. And of her husband, who helped her shoulder the enormous load.

Every big newspaper prints obituaries every day, of course.  But most of them nowadays—contrary to days that I remember fondly—are paid obituaries. They used to be free. At least on the big paper I worked for and so many others.

Things have changed. You die, your family wants to do something nice for you, and buys you an obituary.  Your family can write anything they want to, and also overlook anything they want to. And the paper will print it word for word. With zero fact-checking. All they want is assurance that your check won’t bounce.

But this obituary has an LATimes byline on it –it was written by an LATimes journalist and underwent usual LATimes editing before being made available to its many, many thousands of readers. So, it has the full weight of the LATimes’ professional competence and integrity going for it. And it was written without charge to the family.

Better still, it is on the front page of the paper’s second section, which features local news. That says something.

And it has a big photo and headline, and they are grabbers!

The headline says, “Adoption advocate had 20 children.”

Mentioned is that six were biological and 14 adopted.

The photo is even more powerful. It shows Dorothy and her husband Bob with six of their children way back in 1978,  All six are smiling. Obviously happy. Three  of them are on crutches.  All six have big problems. And Dorothy’s husband is quoted as saying, “These weren’t throw-away kids! Her goal was to allow every child to have a permanent home.”

Wouldn’t you be grabbed, too? That obit was the first thing that I read on that page. I followed it to its jump onto Page 4 and read it right to the bottom. Fascinated all the way.

One paragraph near the end stunned me. I read it and re-read it.  Here it is, verbatim:

“Two of their  children, T.R. and Twe, died as adults. Along with her husband, Dorothy DeBolt’s survivors include her children, Mike, Mimi, Sephanie, Noel, Kim, Marty, Melanie, Do, Ly, Dat, Trang, Phong, Tich, Anh, Reynaldo, Sunee, Karen and Wendy, 27 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and her brother, Art Nortier.”

That sounds like an interesting sampling from the United Nations!

But here is Dorothy’s story in a nutshell.

Dorothy was born in San Francisco in 1923. She was musically talented and attended UC/Berkeley and became a professional pianist. She married Ted Atwood—few details about him are given—and became a full-time  housewife and soon, a mother.  Then, remarkably motivated for sure by love and compassion and altruism, they adopted two kids from  the Korean War—their father an American serviceman, their mother Korean. Then more kids. Ted died in 1963. Dorothy adopted two more, for a total of  nine.

A few years later she met Bob DeBolt on a blind date. He was a civil engineer, divorced, with one child.  It is said he was flabbergasted when he showed up for the date and saw Dorothy’s unusual family.  What man wouldn’t be? The amazing thing is that he asked for a second date. She said she fell in love with Bob instantly. They wed in 1970—and together continued adopting “unadoptable children” together.

Sometimes the family budget was a big worry. The 20 kids they wound up with were an incredible mix—“ paraplegics and others afflicted by polio, spina bifida, paralysis and blindness….  One was born without legs and arms…. One was blind, battered, and abandoned. … Some had emotional difficulties.“

All the kids—white, black, brown, yellow, whatever, and from this country and that one– were heaped with love and care and true parental emotional support–were helped in every way possible.

Dorothy and Ted went on to establish an adoption agency for impaired children. It’s called Adopt A Special Kid, or AASK. The first of its kind in the U.S.  The are credited with 3,500 adoptees in California, and thousands more through affiliated agencies in other states.

The family was featured in a documentary in 1977, “Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get 19 Kids?”  It won an Academy Award.  Then the DeBolts adopted their 20th child.

It is reported that Dorothy was not strongly religious, but she had “Thank you, God!” signs posted around their house.

“God bless Dorothy!” say I.

She died Feb. 24 at home after ailing for a long time. She was 89.

Now I believe you see why I felt that this was a story I should share.

Bob, too, will deserve a great obit some day.

Who says newspapers feature just bad stuff?

~ ~ ~


  1. Joan Perrone says:

    My hat is off to this wonderful woman. What an unselfish, inspriation she is to us all. May she rest in peace, and I hope her husband gets a wonderful obit as well. Joan

  2. Nancy Simonds says:

    “God bless Dorothy, say I”, too. What a marvel and inspiration she is. Personally, I believe we are put on this planet to take care of and love one another. My philosophy is simple but yet the world has complicated the heck out of it so this focus has gotten misplaced and even lost for the most part. Sad but true.

    Dorothy knew how to love unconditonally. May she rest in peace for eternity. At least she walks with Jesus now. It can’t possibly get any better than that, especially for folks like her. ~ Nancy

  3. jim davis says:

    thanks John. good woman. best cure of human misery under our control (?) is to reduce the world population to about 4 billion – as of now the approximate carrying load of the planet. nature, including the four horsemen, will do this anyway.

  4. evelyn maron says:

    This is a wonderful heartfelt story, makes you feel good about the world (which isn’t easy today.
    Thanks John. keep up the good work. EV

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