Craig resident Betty Rice holds up a picture of her husband, Ken, and two sons, Dan, 35, and Brian, 33. Rice, a resident at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab, was a foster mother to 38 foster children during a period of about 12 years.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Craig resident Betty Rice holds up a picture of her husband, Ken, and two sons, Dan, 35, and Brian, 33. Rice, a resident at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab, was a foster mother to 38 foster children during a period of about 12 years.

Craig resident remembers more than a decade of foster parenthood

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— Children came, then moved on.

Time passed.

But Betty Rice still remembers.

For more than 10 years, the Craig home she made with her husband, Ken, was a refuge for foster children ranging from 2 weeks to 17 years old.

Being a foster parent meant knowing when to stand firm and when to let go.

"When (foster children) first started coming : in my heart, I said, 'This is wonderful; you're mine forever,'" Betty said.

But things usually didn't work out that way. In the Social Services foster parent system, the ultimate goal was to return children to their original parents whenever possible, she said.

Just because she couldn't keep the children didn't mean she loved them any less. She became determined to care for her foster children as her own for as long as they lived under her roof.

Wish fulfilled

Becoming foster parents in the late 1970s met one of the Rices' deep-seated desires they couldn't fulfill on their own.

"Both my husband and myself, we love children, and we wanted children," Betty said, "(but) were not able to have children."

So, they turned to foster parenting as an alternative.

"This way, we were able to help children that needed it," she said.

During a period of about 12 years, 38 foster children found refuge in the Rice home. Sometimes they were responsible for caring for only one child.

During one particularly hectic period, though, six foster children lived with the Rices.

"That was a wild time," Betty said.

A few children particularly stand out in her mind.

One was Coonie, a 13-month-old baby placed in the Rices' care for six months.

"He was very affectionate, very loving," Betty said. "The love just sparkled out of his eyes. : He was such a joy."

Tough love

Betty learned that being a parent also meant sometimes being tough.

Rules stood firm in the Rice home.

Rules like no smoking in the house and no lying.

And all children were expected to follow them, no matter what.

Even commonsense guidelines, such as not touching a hot stove, had to be laid out for children who had come from troubled homes with no rules.

The couple's resolve was tested from time to time.

"Some just pulled just as far as they could to see if it (was) really going to give out," Betty said.

Remaining consistent could be a struggle. Still, Betty remained firm, even when she was tempted to relent.

Maintaining a code of conduct gave children something they could count on.

"If you don't know : what to expect, it's like you're without a lifeline," she said.

Letting go, hanging on

Betty recalled another painful parting from two other girls: Kato, 13, and Beth, 14.

"We didn't have them very long," she said.

She looked down and spoke quietly.

The teens lived with the Rices for about 4 1/2 weeks before they were required to return to the state were they had previously lived. Only this time, they weren't returning to a parent's care.

Instead, they were placed in a state-run home.

Betty has since forgotten which state the girls returned to. The sense of loss, however, hasn't vanished with time.

"That was sad for us, because it was sad for them," she said.

During that time, Betty found a way to make peace with such separations.

"That was when the Lord let me know that my foster children would be mine forever and ever, until they went home."

Still, not all children who came to the Rices moved on.

Betty held proudly a picture of her husband and two grown men, Dan and Brian.

The pair came to the Rice home when they were younger than 5.

Their mother was dead. They had no father to care for them.

The boys lived with the Rices for about a year and a half before they were available for adoption.

"We were just ecstatic," Betty said, her face brightening with a wide smile. "It was a dream come true."

That dream wasn't granted overnight. Almost four years passed before the adoption went through.

Throughout the process, Betty remained determined to make the boys a permanent addition to her family.

The reason: "Sheer love," she said.

Her dedication paid off. She reflected on the adult lives of her two sons, her eyes lit with joy.

Dan, now 35, lives in Craig.

"Daniel has never met a stranger," Betty said, ": just a new friend."

Initially, Dan was reluctant to join the family, he said.

Eventually, though Betty's kindness won him over.

"She did a lot of baking," he said. "She spent a lot of time with me. : She always made sure I got plenty to eat.

"That was really good of her."

Brian, 33, now serves in the U.S. Army, where his duties have taken him miles from home. On Nov. 26, he left his post in Germany to serve a tour in Baghdad, Iraq.

Like many parents, Betty has conflicting emotions about her son's decision to serve his country. She's nervous for him and his safety, she said, but added that she's also very proud.

Her pride in both sons was evident as she held up a picture of them and her husband.

She credits Ken with helping to make her wish to raise children a reality.

"I have a wonderful, loving husband," she said. "Without him, there wouldn't have been foster parenting or children or anything else."

Finding family

When Betty stopped serving as a foster parent, it wasn't because she wanted to.

Instead, the decision was taken from her in the late 1980s, when an accident at a local Burger King restaurant, where she was working, made her unable to care for children any longer.

The incident occurred when Betty was leaning into an industrial microwave oven to retrieve a heated piece of meat. The heavy door unexpectedly slammed shut, driving the latch deep into her ear canal and rupturing the eardrum.

The injury also caused brain damage and brought on epileptic seizures, Betty said.

Lingering health issues made foster parenting impossible.

"It was extremely difficult," she said.

Still, amid the grief, Betty found gratitude for the foster children she had been allowed to raise.

Three years ago, Betty became a resident at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab to receive care for her health complications, which include diabetes.

At her new home, she's found another way to live out her desire to nurture others.

"I have a tendency," she said. "People tend to think of me as a mother hen."

She looked around her room in the facility, which she shares with another client.

"I like to have family," she said, "so here, this has become my family."

Her roommate, the people she eats meals with and Sandrock Ridge staff members qualify as additions to her adopted family.

Betty held her head up high with a dignified smile.

"I just want to make sure everyone's OK," she said. "That's my biggie."

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