Leroy can still remember that night he first laid eyes on his now wife Pat. They were in Germany during the war. He was a fighter pilot in the Air Force; she was a nurse. She was pretty and she was short. He thought he had a shot.
Their first two dates were to church.
“I thought he was kind of a wimp so I said, ‘well, you can take me to Mass’,” she jokes now, her love evident for the man she’s called her husband for 55 years.
While their love story begins in Germany, their family story begins with Catholic Charities. Together they adopted six children through Catholic Charities, the first with an agency in Las Vegas, the remaining five with Catholic Charities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
“If it weren’t for Catholic Charities we wouldn’t have a family,” Pat says sitting at the kitchen table of her Belle Plaine home, an electronic picture frame behind her flashing photos of their six children, 14 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.
“Our children are all angels,” Leroy said.
“Actually,” Pat jokes, “Three of them take after his mother and three of them take after my mother.”
Their oldest is Mike. Leroy and Pat were in their 20s, back on American soil and stationed at Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas. It was a windy day when they first held that 12-day old baby boy. He was wrapped up in a blanket and Pat and Leroy didn’t dare unwrap him from the blanket until they got in the car, out of the wind.
“He was just beautiful,” Pat remembers.
“He’s always been beautiful, he still is.” Leroy echoes.
They’re proud of their oldest boy who played a coronet in church, who was athletic and a genuine nice person. But their pride does not stop at Mike.
There’s David, the adventurous genius and Terry the hard worker who would eventually take over the family farm. There’s Kevin who weighed less than 2 pounds when he was born. He’s the kind, reliable and steady son. And Cathy the blue eyed blonde baby. Pat regrets the yellow dress she bought to take her home in, saying it didn’t go with her pale skin; they were expecting an African American child that day.
Leroy and Pat were never concerned about the race or sex of the children they brought into their home.
“She’s got a body, she’s got a soul, we’ll take her,” Leroy said.
Julie is the baby, who was dropped on an orphanage doorstep in Korea when she was just about two weeks old. Julie is their only international adoptee. She arrived in Minnesota, appropriately, on Mother’s Day.
They raised their children on a farm in Belle Plaine, teaching their children the value of family and hard work. Later on, they took in a nephew who lost both of his parents. For Leroy and Pat, family is love, not blood.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done without my family,” Leroy said. “We both have had wonderful lives and we are thankful.”