Obit of the Day: “Who are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get 20 Kids?”
Dorothy DeBolt already had five children of her own when she and her first husband, Ted Atwood, adopted two boys from Korea. After he passed away in 1963, she would adopt two paraplegic girls from Vietnam, bringing the total to nine.
For seven years she would live as a single mom of nine children. She met her second husband, Bob, on a blind date in the late 1960s. They married in 1970 and he brought his daughter into the fold bringing the newly formed DeBolt-Atwood family to 10.
By 1977 they would take in nine more children from around the globe, often with physical or emotional disabilities. This included a girl from Korea who the orphanage dubbed “The Child Who Never Smiles” because she had lost one eye and was blind in the other. (After a corneal transplant she could see and ran around the house smiling and laughing at her siblings’ faces.) There was the boy from Vietnam who saw his parents killed in a bombing who was often found under a table in the fetal position. There was the African American girl who was born without arms or legs.
The home was never modified and the children had to learn to get around the two-story house regardless of their disability.
Also in 1977, a documentary of their lives was released titled Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids? Directed by Ted Korty and narrated by Henry Winkler, the DeBolts hosted a film crew in their home for 2 1/2 years. It was worth it as the film won an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1978.
In 1979 the DeBolts adopted one more child, from Mexico, bringing the final total to 20.
Several years earlier Dorothy and Bob founded Adopt a Special Kid which focused on the adoption of children with special needs. It was the first of its kind in the United States.
Dorothy DeBolt, matriarch of this amazing family, died on February 24 at the age of 89. She is survived by her husband Bob who is 81. Eighteen of their children are still alive along with 27 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Sources: LA Times obituary, 1988 LA Times article, IMDB and Wikipedia
(Image of the DeBolts, circa 1979, with their twenty children is courtesy of Hot Saas’s Pop Culture Safari)
Personal note: Since 2008, Mrs. OOTD and I have served as foster parents. Over that time we have welcomed seven children into our home, adopted one, returned two home, and are on the path to adopt three more. (We also have an amazing 8-year-old biological son, who I’ve mentioned before.) There are 300,000 foster children in the United States and more than half are waiting to be adopted. I am happy to take questions on foster care/adoption.
i was obsessed with “who are the debolts? (and where did they get nineteen kids?)” a few years ago and i want to watch it again.