Theo Ralston’s daughters, Nancy Stephan, left, and Peggy Hord, visit their mother at her home on the Stephan family farm. The daughters say they are simply returning the tender-loving care that they received from her during their childhood, as they take care of her now.   kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Theo Ralston’s daughters, Nancy Stephan, left, and Peggy Hord, visit their mother at her home on the Stephan family farm. The daughters say they are simply returning the tender-loving care that they received from her during their childhood, as they take care of her now. kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
The world has changed dramatically in Theo Ralston's life. The 101-year-old Switzerland County native was born April 1, 1912.

At the time of her birth, World War I had not yet started and the Titanic's disastrous maiden voyage was still two weeks away.

And while so much has changed in the world, Ralston's close relationship with her family has not.

Ralston doesn't live in a retirement home; she lives on her own. But she also depends on her two daughters, Peggy Hord and Nancy Stephan, who come over each day to spend time with their mother.

They've worked out a schedule so at least one of them sees her every day.

Together they play Solitaire, read the Bible and work on word puzzles. Stephan, her husband, and one of Theo's friends visit on Saturday nights to play Euchre.

"She's a really good Euchre player," Hord said.

"I just get better cards than everyone else," Theo replied.

Occasionally, they will even sing together.

"I can sing a pretty good alto. I can sing some of the high ones too," she said.

Theo has always loved singing. She was active in her church's choir for most of her life, her daughters said.

Theo moved to Jefferson County in 1933 after she was married, and has lived here ever since. She worked as a teacher. First, in a one-room schoolhouse north of Vevay, before teaching in Canaan for 26 years. She retired in 1976.

"She's been retired longer than she taught," Stephan said.

Back then, the Ralston's lived "out in the country," Stephan said. She made sure her daughters learned what they needed to learn for where they were living.

"She introduced us to youth groups in our church, made sure we knew the Lord. We were active in 4-H, which was good out in the country. We learned a lot. We learned things that were valuable back then," Stephan said. "She taught life values. I think she's done a good job of that."

Theo made sure to instill not just life values, but a sense of family and community in her children.

Hord said on Sundays, after church, friends and family members would come together and enjoy a meal together, switching from house to house most weeks.

"We would take turns and have a big full meal at the house. We'd have fried chicken and mashed potatoes. The whole deal. We would be at a different place each Sunday. It was just special," Hord said.

Theo said her children didn't cause too her much trouble when they were growing up.

"We got along pretty good," she said. "But sometimes I had to give in a little."

Raising her children the way she did is what's allowing her to still live at home. Both daughters said while they know not everyone can do what they're doing, they're glad to do it while they can.

"I feel like it's biblical, to help take care of my mom," Stephan said when asked about helping her mother on a regular basis. "And we're able to right now. We might not always be able to, but it's working for now."

So, now, instead of moving gatherings around from house to house, people come to see Theo. For her 100th birthday last year, she had more than 200 visitors. The guests will often include her seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

"We just gather here. If it's a birthday, everyone brings food over here and we celebrate a birthday," Stephan said.

Doing that helps Theo keep busy. But after all these years, she still approaches things the same way.

"I just take it one day at a time," she said.
By RENEE BRUCK

Courier Staff Writer

rbruck@madisoncourier.com

Kellie Kummer always knew she wanted a large family and warned her husband while they were engaged that she wanted eight children.

But that was just an estimate.

Over the last 14 years, they've been parents to nearly 50 kids - foster parents, that is.

All along, Kellie knew she wanted children of her own, yet she also wanted to adopt. Her husband, Tony, agreed.

The couple decided soon after they married to open their home to children in foster care, too. And that choice has generated many questions.

Some people have a misconception that kids in foster care are troublemakers, Kellie said. The public attitude toward "foster kids" is most often incorrect.

"That label is huge," Kellie said. "And the thing is it's not their fault."

The Kummers said some of the children in the system do have issues - either developmental or behavioral - but they attribute the issues to instability in the children's lives from so many moves to different homes.

Children born with addictions to drugs or alcohol and placed in the foster care system are often given a grim diagnosis because of their situation.

"They said he'd never crawl," Kellie said of a former foster child. "We put him on the floor and he was crawling within a week."

The child was walking within a month of living in the Kummers' home.

Still, not all of their cases have an inspirational story. Some children are moved to another foster home to be nearer to family or often return to a questionable situation.

"It's hard," Kellie said of being a foster parent. "That's the hardest part, letting them go back."

Foster care takes adjustment for the entire family, not just the parents. The Kummers' four biological children often formed bonds with the foster children and didn't always understand the system.

When their own children were little, the Kummers told them that "friends" came to visit. They explained those "friends" would have to go back home after a while, which made it easier to understand.

"They bond with our kids before they trust us," Kellie said.

Over the years, two of those "friends" stayed - permanently - with the Kummers.

"We've kept two out of 50," Tony said. The family adopted two of the children that had been assigned to them for foster care over the years.

That process is usually a lengthy one.

The Indiana Department of Child Services tries several avenues when placing children in foster care, Tony said.

Children might be placed with a foster care family for a day or two while other arrangements are made for the children to stay with other relatives. The state also tries to rehabilitate parents with addictions while children are in foster care with hopes of returning children to their parent's care.

Yet after a few years and once all options are exhausted, children might be allowed to be adopted by another family. That process usually takes at least two years while the children are moved between family and foster parents, he said.

"A lot of those kids (up for adoption) are older, but those kids need homes too," Kellie said.

Adoption means more than just staying permanently in a former foster home. The Kummers' two adopted children have birth certificates with Kellie and Tony listed as their parents, just like their four biological children.

"They rewrite history," Tony said of officials.

The "foster kid" label and mentality also goes away as well.

"Being adopted is much cooler today," Kellie said.

Adoption also allows for a stability some children have never known.

Still, the Kummers know they can't adopt every child that comes into their home. But they do have a goal to set a good example for the children and show them that people do care about their well-being.

"They tell me to treat them as my own," Kellie said. "If it doesn't hurt when they leave, I didn't do my job."