September 22, 2020

A story worth telling a second time

By John Guy LaPlante

Here I am with the great article I had totally forgotten about!

I wrote about this couple in 2013.

I’m writing about them again. It’s worth it!

First, my friends, let me explain.

Like you I’m sure, day after day, I keep hearing and reading about Covid-19. The global pandemic dominates the news.

It’s terrifying.

Yes, that, and of course our awful, crazy, imbecilic Trump. “Dump Trump!” say I.

And of course the humongous number of sick and dying among us and the so many killed by it.

Plus the colossal number of people put out of work, unable to pay their mortgage or rent or put food on the table or gas in the car.

And the thousands of businesses large and small that it has KO-ed.

And the students in our schools and universities who may not be able to continue their classes. Their future made uncertain.

In a word the huge social and economic maelstrom that so many of us have been sucked into. On and on.

When and how will it end? Impossible to know.

Well, I was keeping busy at home as a good way not to think about all that.

At one point I needed a certain document and went looking for it in my files.

But before I got to it, I happened upon this article I had published online more than seven years ago. On March 15, 2013.

I have written dozens and dozens of them. I had totally forgotten about this one.

The minute that I spotted the headline and the big photo under it I recalled the whole thing.

I began reading it. So wonderful. So dramatic. So unique really.

The minute I finished it, I decided I would republish it. I felt you too would love it.

It was about a woman, Dorothy DeBolt, born in1903, who had a heart bigger than a watermelon. Obviously a lady in the finest sense of the word. An angel.

And of her husband, who helped her shoulder the enormous, magnificent, lifelong load she had taken upon herself. Truly a gentleman in the finest sense of the word.

What I was reading was Mrs. DeBolt’s obituary.

Every big newspaper prints obituaries in their news columns every day, of course. Because the people involved did such good things or such bad things. They are newsworthy.

This was in the huge Los Angeles Times.

In its huge circulation area, every day dozens and dozens of people die.

You’re an ordinary Joe or Jane, you die, your family wants to do something nice for you, and they buy you an obituary in your local newspaper.

Your family can write anything they want to, and also overlook anything they want to.

The paper will print it word for word. With zero fact-checking.

In fact, it will be handled not by its editorial department but by its advertising department. And it will publish it alongside a number of other ordinary obituaries.

All it wants is assurance that your check will not bounce.

But this obituary had 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 had the full weight of the LÀTimes’ professional competence and integrity going for it.

And it was written and published without charge to the family.

Better still, it was on the front page of the paper’s second section, which features local news. That says something. And it had a big photo and headline, and they were grabbers!

The headline said,

Adoption Advocate Had 20 Children.”

Wow! Twenty! Six biological and fourteen adopted.

And the photo. So powerful.

Dorothy and Bob DeBolt with 6 of the 20 kids they adopted, from different countries and all with terrible lifelong physical afflictions. And please notice, everybody smiling!

It shows Dorothy DeBolt and Bob, her second husband, 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 Bob is quoted as saying, “These were not throw-away kids! Her goal was to allow every child to have a permanent home.”

Her first husband, Ted, had died prematurely. He had gone along enthusiastically with her in starting this remarkable charitable work.

Wouldn’t you be grabbed, too? That obituary was the first thing I read on that page. I followed it to its jump on 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’s survivors include her children, Mike, Mimi, Stephanie, Noel, Kim, Marty, Melanie, Do, Ly, Dat, Trang. Phong, Tich, Ann, 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, doesn’t it?

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 but a very good guy- and became a full-time housewife and soon, a mother.

Then, remarkably motivated by love and compassion and altruism, they adopted two kids from the Korean war – their father was 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. Well, she said she fell in love with Bob immediately. They married in 1970 – and together continued to adopt “unadoptable children.”

Sometimes the family budget was a big worry.

The 20 kids they wound up with were an incredible mix — “paraplegics and others affected by polio, spina bifida, paralysis and blindness… One was born without legs and arms….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. They were helped in every way possible.

Dorothy and Bob 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 US.

They 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 the house.

“God bless Dorothy!” say I.

She died February 24, 2013, at home after ailing for a long time. She was 89.

Bob, too, deserved a wonderful obituary. But who knows, he may still be with us.

Now I believe you see why I felt this was a story I should share again by re-publishing it now.

I hope it has given you a nice big high the way it did me when I came upon it accidentally in that file.

In these bleak, dismal days of Covid-19, we need all the sunshine we can get, don’t we?

I hope you are getting by. Each and every one of you.

P.S. When I published this way back on March 15, 2013, I got very nice replies from several of you. I know your names by heart. And I still get replies from you. Can any writer ask for better than that?

Comments

  1. Joan Perrone says

    What a wonderful, generous, kind-hearted, caring person she was. She was an angel on earth.

    Hope you are well, John. We had the Isaiah storm pass by Tuesday afternoon. Winds gusted to over 50 miles per hour. We lost power around 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, and it was just restored last night around 10:00 p.m. lots of broken limbs and leaves on the ground; and many people had large trees break in half and topple power lines. And all of this happening during the pandemic. Is God telling us something??? We are fine and quite self sufficient, so we go on.

    Take care of yourself. Love reading your posts.

    Cousin Joan

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