National Adoption Day is his favorite day of the year, and Butler County Probate Judge Randy Rogers is reminiscing about the many joyful celebrations in his court as he prepares to preside over his last.
After 25 years on the bench, Rogers has helped join children with forever families but a couple of fond memories stand out. One precocious 4-year-old with curly red hair still makes him chuckle.
“I looked down at her and said where did you get those pretty curls,” Rogers recalled. ”And she looked up at me and she said, ‘They came with my head.’ They came with my head, isn’t that a great one.”
Today, Rogers and Magistrate Heather Cady will finalize the adoptions of 10 children by six families, according to Butler County Children Services Adoption Coordinator Theresa Copper. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, they have been able to finalize 45 adoptions this year, and there are about 90 children who still need permanent homes.
“There are good things that happen every day and that’s one of the lessons of National Adoption Day,” Rogers said. “In spite of all the other things going on around us, there are still good things that happen every day.”
The agency and probate court finalized 87 adoptions last year. BCCS Director Julie Gilbert said the number this year is a bit lower than usual, but the judge refused to halt adoption hearings, despite the pandemic.
“We are very pleased with the fact that we’ve been able to continue to have adoptions heard in our Probate Court when other counties have stopped,” Gilbert said. “They’re just getting started again, but we’ve been able to continue even through these uncertain times. It’s almost just a silver lining and blessing that this is some good that has come out of such a difficult time.”
On a normal mass adoption day, the Historic Courthouse would be teeming with family members and friends, but this year they have had to limit the number of people in the courtrooms to 10. But Rogers said they have gotten email addresses for other people the families would like to have participate in the celebration so they can join online.
Joe and Aga Schrock will be adopting three siblings, Kaylee, 10, James, 7 and 3-year-old Bentley during the celebration. They adopted another set of siblings in 2016, Arianna, 10, and Leland, 9, and they have their biological daughter, 9-year-old Natalia. The dad said they are hitting the in-person limit with just their family so the online option is great, especially since his wife’s family all live in Poland.
“The last time her family in Poland didn’t have any chance of seeing the hearing, and now they should be able to see the hearing, and again when they’re baptized,” Schrock said. “So in some ways, COVID has actually helped her family have more participation, not that we want a pandemic every time we have a baptism or an adoption.”
Schrock, the senior pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hamilton, said he and his wife have been foster parents for several years and will likely continue, or serve as an emergency placement for BCCS. Their home in Liberty Twp. can get a little chaotic at times.
“And because we were bored we added a labrador puppy so we’re up to six kids and four dogs, and a few other pets as well ...,” Schrock said. “For me, it was a calling, just like being called to be a pastor or be soldier. We’ve kind of approached it that way.”
Rogers is turning 70 so according to judicial age limitations, he must retire next year. He said presiding over adoptions has been a privilege, and witnessing these families become forever is powerful. Several years ago a father testified at their adoption hearing, saying they tried to have children on their own and couldn’t. Then the dad was diagnosed with a form of cancer he couldn’t survive.
He was given a treatment that worked and they tried to foster but were never picked for a placement. But they “stuck it out” for three years and finally were able to adopt a 20-month-old little girl. The man testified when the social worker set her down in front of her new father it was fate.
“She climbed up into his lap and he fell in love with her immediately and he just knew their bond was sealed right then, and he just knew they’d take her home, and they’d be able to adopt her and she’d be a part of their family,” Rogers recalled. “The name of the little girl that climbed up in the lap of the man who the doctors had given no hope was Hope. That’s one of my favorite stories.”
He remembers forever the time another little guy threw a sippy cup at him, that was the day the story broke about three-year-old Marcus Fiesel’s death at the hands of his foster parents in 2003. He self-published a little book with his stories after that, because that was the exception to the reality he has known.
“The reality that I knew was the foster care system had created so many wonderful families, I was so impressed. There are rare exceptions but for the most part I am so impressed with the empathy, the love that these foster parents have for their children,” Rogers said. “And you would see it play out in the courtroom nearly every time we had a hearing. Tears would flow and people would get choked up as they talked about why they got involved with this.”
Richard and Christina Bennett of Liberty Twp. adopted three children on National Adoption Day in 2016. Richard recalled when his kids Isaiah, William and Abigail got to bang Rogers’ giant gavel he reserves for the special day.
“It is refreshing how much Judge Rogers shows that he cares,” Bennett said. “It’s great that he includes the kids in the court proceedings and makes sure he hears from everyone. All the kids were excited to get to bang the gavel afterwards.”