This weekend I was given a recently released children’s book about the life of Bertha Holt, the co-founder of our adoption agency. The book, “Grandma”: The Life of Bertha Holt, was written and illustrated by 4th and 5th grade classes at the Bertha Holt Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon. I already knew Grandma Holt’s story, but, as I read the book, I found myself looking at her story a bit differently with my almost-fifty-year-old eyes. Grandma Holt was the mother of six children in the mid-1950s when she and her husband revolutionized international adoption by adopting eight Korean war orphans and establishing the adoption agency that went on to become Holt International Children’s Services.
I, too, have six children but I know that we will not be adopting any more children and certainly not eight more. I admire Grandma Holt for taking on that challenge, but what really struck me as I read through the new book is that when these children joined her family, Grandma was 51 years old – just a little more than a year older than I am now. I am overwhelmed at the thought of someone taking on that sort of parenting responsibility at my age! However, even more amazing is all the additional feats Bertha Holt went on to accomplish – all after her 50th birthday: She worked with her husband, Harry to establish an international adoption agency. She moved to S. Korea for two years to help her husband build a childcare center. After Harry Holt’s death in 1964 she became the voice and backbone of the agency; she was known to thousands of children as Grandma. Again, all after her 50th birthday! Bertha Holt also travelled the world, received numerous awards and honors and, as if that weren’t enough, she took up jogging in her 70s! She continued running regularly until just before her death at the age of 96. In fact, my first memory of Grandma was at a Holt fundraising auction. Grandma was asked to come up on the stage to receive a birthday gift for her 90th birthday. I was amazed at this old woman who seemed to bounce up the steps to the stage – I was even more amazed when, after opening her gift of a new pair of Nike running shoes, she jumped up and down with delight.
Reading Bertha Holt’s story with a new perspective, gives me a renewed sense of hope and anticipation for what I still might do, what I still might become. As we approach fifty, I think we worry about what is ending – youth, reproductive years, beauty, usefulness. But, no! Fifty may be a symbolic ending to some aspects of adult life, but it can be an even stronger symbolic beginning of what we still have left to accomplish.