After adopting six kids, Wes and Marcie Roberts, now parents of nine, say rewards outweigh struggles
In this Thanksgiving season, Dora residents Wes and Marcie Roberts are thankful for the broken road of shattered dreams and heartbreaking setbacks that led them to the rewarding but exhausting life they live today as the parents of nine children, including several with mental and learning disabilities.
“God had a plan,” Marcie says simply to explain the disappointments and happy “coincidences” that came together to write their inspiring and heartwarming story.
Wes, the eighth child in his growing-up family of 10 kids, and Marcie, the second of two kids but with a huge family of aunts, uncles and cousins, always wanted a big family. They were on their way to creating it when they learned, after the birth of their third child, Bobbi, in 1996, that Marcie wouldn’t be able to have more children.
That setback was a disappointment – but not the end of their dream. “We still wanted a big family, and we knew the only way to do that was to adopt,” Marcie said.
But that plan got set aside and almost forgotten as Wes taught at Dora School, coaching high school baseball and also girls basketball, cross-country and track and field, and Marcie, at age 30 and the mother of three, started college at Missouri State University - West Plains. She finished her degree at age 34 and was hired to teach at Dora alongside Wes – third grade for a year and then high school English for two years.
Working together at the school was a dream come true, but it was also a hectic, busy time. “With Wes coaching and me teaching and the kids involved in school things, sometimes it seemed like we were at the school 24 hours a day. And when we weren’t at school, our house was always full of kids who came over,” Marcie said. “We loved having a houseful of kids. But then it all just got to be too much. I was getting burned out.”
After three years of teaching, Marcie quit. She felt terrible about giving up after she’d worked so hard to get her teaching degree. “Sometimes you think, ‘This is awful,’” she said. “It was devastating to our kids. But God was opening a door. He was putting me where I needed to be.”
‘We got the call’
Marcie started working in the Air Evac office in West Plains, and a while after that, Wes left teaching too and started his own home-based businesses, including raising dogs and selling exotic lumber online.
In December 2011, after an assignment change at Air Evac, Marcie started working in a different department with Larry Kulakevich, a young Russian immigrant who lives in Pomona. He and his wife had three children, but they wanted to adopt more, he told her.
“You know, we thought about that,” Marcie replied.
Larry told her he and his wife had signed up to take classes to be certified as foster parents. He said he’d grown up without a dad, and he liked the idea of being a dad to a kid like he’d been, a kid without a dad.
Larry talked Marcie into taking the fostering class too, and she talked Wes into taking the classes with her.
Then they talked to their kids, asking how they felt about bringing a foster child – or maybe two – into the home. Jay, their oldest, was already grown and living away from home; the younger two were still at home: Olivia, then a high school senior, and Bobbi, 16.
“We sat them down and told them, ‘It’s your decision. If you want us to wait until you’ve graduated and you’re out of the house, we will,’” Marcie said. “They both said, ‘No, let’s do it.’ They were excited and all for it,” Marcie said.
She and Wes started the classes in May 2012.
The month before, they had heard about a really good deal on a house in their area. It was a well-built home on a beautiful setting in a great location. They knew the house was too big for the empty-nesters they would soon be. “But we really weren’t thinking about that when we bought the house. We just liked it a lot. It was a good deal, and it kind of fell into our laps,” Marcie said.
And so they bought the six-bedroom home. And as part of the furnishings for it, they bought a long dining table that could seat 10.
They were living in it a little over six months later when, about 10 a.m. on Dec. 5, Marcie got a call at work from Family Services.
“We had finished our classes, but we hadn’t gotten our certificate in the mail yet,” she said.
“They said, ‘We have five kids in one home. Can we give you part of them for a month or two?’” Marcie recalled. “We were only certified to take two as foster or adoptive parents. They said the oldest child had cancer, and the youngest was five weeks old. They wanted to place two with us and the other three in another home.”
Marcie said yes. Then she called Wes.
“We got the call,” she told him, adding that Family Services wanted them to take two of five kids for just a month or two. The kids were being placed due to neglect. “It won’t be long term,” she told Wes.
He paused a minute and asked, “How are we going to separate those kids?”
Wes called Karla Smith, the caseworker, and asked, “Can we have them all?”
‘We can do this. It’s only for a month or two’
With all the kids being in one family, an exception could be made to their certification for two children, Karla said. Once the plan was approved, Karla scrambled to find five carseats, and she asked Marcie to meet her in Gainesville to pick up two of the children because Karla’s Explorer would only accommodate three carseats.
Marcie left work early. Wes picked up Olivia and Bobbi from high school, and they all rushed to “get the house cleaned up and get the beds ready,” Marcie said.
A few hours later, she was following Karla back to Dora from Gainesville with the two youngest children, 2-year-old Kaylee and 5-week-old Stacy. Driving over the winding, hilly Highway 181, “I couldn’t remember their names. I was so overwhelmed,” Marcie said. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna have to have them wear nametags.’”
Once they all arrived, the kids, including 4-year-old Matthew, 6-year-old Austin and 8-year-old Allison, “walked into the house like they owned the place,” Marcie said, laughing.
When the call had come earlier that day, the Roberts family had no baby furniture or supplies, no toddler’s bed – nothing that would prepare them for their five foster children’s arrival. But word got out in the close-knit Dora community, and “within hours, we had more than we could ever ask for,” Marcie said. “People brought us groceries, clothes, diapers, money. My family. Our church [Ball Church of Christ]. Everyone. All of them brought things.”
The children were tired, dirty and hungry. All of them except 8-year-old Allison were in diapers. “They’d never slept in a bed. They’d never used a toilet, and they would go to the bathroom in closets,” Marcie said. “They’d never taken a bath. Giving them a bath that first night was like trying to give a cat a bath. It scared them to death.”
Allison was the exception because she’d had very good care during her cancer treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Center in Memphis, Tennessee.
Marcie quickly took inventory of her kitchen to see what she could fix for supper for her family that had suddenly doubled in size. Then she and Wes gathered everyone around that big, long table for 10 and ate Frito pies. “I figured, what kid doesn’t like chips and hamburger in tomato sauce?” she said.
The kids “ate and ate and ate,” Marcie said.
That first night was rough, and so were many nights that followed. The foster kids “would get up in the middle of the night to get food, and then they would hide it all over the house,” Marcie said. “Kaylee just didn’t sleep. She would even go outside. So Wes and I had to sleep in shifts to make sure she didn’t get out. We put alarms on their bedroom doors, and they went off all the time.”
All the children had “issues,” Marcie said. They learned later that Austin, the 6-year-old, had a mental disability that neuropsychologists said he wasn’t born with. “He had been set in a corner and given a bottle, and he never had that brain stimulation babies need.”
The baby, Stacy, was born with four different drugs in her system. “She wasn’t an easy baby,” Marcie said. “Nothing was easy.”
She and Wes told each other, “We can do this. It’s only for a month or two.”
They wanted to give all their kids a good Christmas, “but we didn’t have a lot of money. Still don’t,” Marcie said. But again, the community responded.
“Things just kept flooding in. It was almost overwhelming. We ended up donating some of it to other families,” she said.
Wes and Marcie continued to work at their jobs, and somehow the first month passed. And then another. And another.
‘We’ll take that baby too’
The oldest foster child, Allison, had stage 4 neuroblastoma when she arrived at the Roberts home. “She’d had two rounds of chemo and two rounds of radiation before she came to us,” Marcie said, “but she was still on chemo pills.”
Once a month, while Wes and their teenage girls kept the foster kids, Marcie would take Allison to St. Jude in Memphis for treatment. As time passed, the visits came once every three months, then once every six months. Now, they go once a year, Marcie said, and Allison is cancer-free.
The foster kids’ parents, charged with abuse, were ordered not to see each other as their cases worked their way through the courts. But then, in the fall of 2012, Karla Smith called again. The kids’ mother was pregnant by the same dad. “Do you want No. 6?” Karla asked.
Exhausted mentally and physically, Wes and Marcie needed time to think. Marcie’s parents, who lived in Indiana, told her, “No way, Marcie. You’re too stressed all the time.” And friends at Air Evac told her, “Don’t feel bad for not taking on another baby. You’ve already done enough.”
Marcie countered, “How am I going to take five and leave one out?”
But she was realistic enough to know she might have maxed out what she and Wes were able to give. “I decided to just give it to God,” she said.
“I prayed and prayed for that baby. And the more we prayed, the more we knew that baby was ours,” Marcie said. She called Karla and told her, “We’ll take that baby too.”
By then it was November, and the mother had disappeared. Thinking her due date was nearing, Marcie started calling area hospitals, just asking for the mother by name and being told no one with that name had been admitted. Then, one morning, she called what was then Skaggs Hospital in Branson – and was connected to a patient room.
“Did you have the baby?” she asked the mother.
“Yes,” the woman replied.
Marcie hung up and contacted Karla Smith, who was in Memphis, for a family event. “I’ll take care of it,” Karla told her.
Arrangements were made, and on Nov. 25, 2012, Wes and Roberts headed to Branson – just as a major ice storm rolled in. “We just kept going and kept going,” Marcie said, despite the slick roads. As they walked into the hospital, the mother was walking out.
The doctor told them the mom had received no prenatal care. “It was then we found out it was a little boy,” she said. “He was a little over 4 pounds.”
They hadn’t told the other kids what they were doing. Later that evening, having made the harrowing drive back home on icy roads, they walked in carrying the baby. “We got home on Matthew’s birthday. We walked in and said, ‘Matthew, here’s your birthday present.’ He started bawling and said, ‘Is this all I’m getting?’”
A few days later, they explained to the kids that the baby, to be called Si (short for Silas), was their sibling.
Coping with disabilities
For the next two years, a physical therapist visited the Roberts home two to three times a week to work with Si. “She was an absolute miracle worker,” Marcie said. “He had no neck, and his arms and legs were all drawn up when he was born, and today the boy does flips all through our house. You would never know anything was ever wrong with him.”
Like his older sister Stacy, Si was born with severe problems. But doctors have told Marcie and Wes that both of the youngest children are expected to catch up and fully overcome their current disabilities, Marcie said.
On the other hand, Austin, the second-oldest child, has diminished mental capacities, Marcie said, and will probably never advance beyond the learning level of a 2- or 3-year-old. As his disability became apparent, Marcie left her job at Air Evac so she could home-school him for his fourth-grade year before he returned to Dora for fifth grade. With her education degree, Marcie knew Austin needed some extra one-to-one teaching time.
Lots of exhaustion but no regrets
The one to two months Wes and Marcie had expected to have the kids quickly turned into a year. And then another and another. And then, in June 2016, the couple rounded up their big family and headed to the courthouse to make it official. Wes and Marcie adopted all six kids.
There’s been no regret since then, Marcie said. But there has been a lot of exhaustion. She and Wes are very grateful to their older daughter Olivia for the invaluable help she gives them.
“She was a senior in high school when we got the kids,” Marcie said. “After she graduated, she took a few semesters of college. I was still working at Air Evac then, and she decided we needed help, so she quit college to help us. She’s a mom to them as much as I am. They called her Yaya, because they couldn’t say Olivia, and it stuck. We all call her Yaya now. She’s our heaven. She’s the only other one besides us who can handle all six of them on her own.”
In addition to helping with the children, Olivia, now 26, owns an online boutique selling creative jewelry and gifts, T-shirts, and other clothing for men, women and children; the business operates through a Facebook page (search for “Just Bloom Boutique LLC”) and a website, shopjustbloom.com.
Marcie and Wes encourage all their children to “give back and not be victims,” Marcie said. Inspired by her family’s foster-children story, Olivia has helped in past years with a Christmas charity, Foster Joy, a countywide program that collects, and fulfills, foster kids’ wish list gifts.
This year, Olivia and Ozark County caseworker Candace Mayberry are hosting a Christmas Craft Market in Dora School’s FEMA building and cafeteria from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28. The event will include a variety of vendors selling crafts, clothing and other gift items. A portion of the proceeds will go to Family Services to help provide Christmas gifts and other needs for foster kids.
The Robertses’ other daughter, Bobbi Roberts Lovelace, lives with her husband Jacob and their daughter Waylynn Jo in Willow Springs. Bobbi works for Ozark Action in West Plains, and Jacob works for Indian Creek Materials in Willow Springs. They, too, remain involved with the family and help with childcare when needed.
Jay Roberts and his wife, Kim, and their children Madi, Jase and Rosie, live in Dora. Jay works for DRS Technologies in West Plains. He and Kim started dating around the time the younger kids came to live with Wes and Marcie. Kim was so inspired by her new family’s big heart, she decided to become a caseworker.
The true reward: Blessings of love and joy
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, Marcie and Wes look back on their journey and marvel with grateful hearts at how God’s plan for them unfolded. They remember their disappointment when they were told Marcie couldn’t have more children, and the sadness they felt when Marcie quit the job she’d dreamed of having at Dora School. They think of how Marcie ended up working in an unexpected department in Air Evac with that “Russian guy,” Larry Kulakevich, who mentioned his plan to take a fostering/adoption class.
Larry didn’t get to finish the class because of some paperwork problem apparently related to his immigration status, Marcie said. “It bummed him out,” she said, “but I told him, ‘Larry, think of it like this: If it wasn’t for you, these kids wouldn’t have a dad. You did your part. You got these kids a dad.’”
She and Wes think about the house with six bedrooms that “fell into their laps” and the long table they bought long before they knew who would gather around it. They remember how the community has responded with overwhelming support since the children arrived.
“I could sit here for hours and tell you the things God did, where he put things in place to make it all happen,” Marcie said.
Foster families receive financial support from the government for the kids they take in, Marcie said. “But when you adopt, that support gets cut in half. It almost feels like you’re being penalized for adopting.”
She insists, however, that they’re making it OK and aren’t asking for financial help from anyone - although it still comes sometimes from family and friends, and she responds gratefully “when someone at church or somewhere else will hand me a hundred-dollar bill or something. I appreciate that. But we would never, ever ask for it.”
Her grocery bill routinely runs more than $1,000 per month. Last spring, when Dora School ended its school year in March due to the pandemic and all six kids were home all day instead of school, where they usually eat breakfast and lunch, “that meant an extra two meals a day for six kids times five,” Marcie said. “That was 60 more meals per week to come out of the grocery budget.”
She hopes that by sharing their story she might inspire other parents to consider fostering and adoption. She hopes maybe “it will be a ‘Larry’ for someone,” Marcie said, acknowledging, though, that fostering is “not easy, and it’s not for everybody.”
Still, the joys and blessings far outweigh the difficulties, she said. “It’s rewarding to know we had a positive impact on the children and their futures. The true reward, however, is the love and joy we’ve been blessed with,” she said.
“Some may believe you can’t love nonbiological children as you love your own. Sometimes it doesn’t come instantly. It’s easier with younger ones who depend on you for their every need, but in time the bond built is unbreakable,” she said. “I gave birth to three children, but God gave us all nine, and they are all ours.”
Most importantly, she said, “I don’t want people to think we’re saying we’re the perfect family. Far from it. The only thing perfect about us is our semi-controlled chaos. We try to start fresh every day. We lean on God a whole lot.”
She and Wes have created a busy, crazily chaotic, happy family of loved ones who will express their thanks for God’s blessings on Thanksgiving Day. But an even bigger day for them will come on Dec. 5.
“That’s our family birthday, the day we first got the kids,” she said. “All our kids and grandkids come. You do not miss family birthday.”
And the menu?