by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LAWRENCE — Kay and Cecil Wehr, members of Corpus Christi Parish here, were sitting outside their house one day when a strange car pulled into the driveway.
“A woman came up to us and asked if we were Cecil and Kay Wehr,” recalled Kay. “And we said, ‘Yes.’
“She said, ‘Well, you had our little girl in foster care; now, she’s seven years old and she wants to give you a hug.’”
The Wehrs had, indeed, been foster parents for many years. But because they were licensed to foster infants, the little girl could not possibly have remembered them.
“But some of the parents tell them the story,” said Kay. “And tell them about us.
“So, she did come up and gave us a hug.”
The little girl was one of 46 babies the Wehrs took into their care for a short time — just long enough, as Kay puts it, “until their forever families were found.”
The Wehrs’ work with foster infants began when they moved to Lawrence in 1990. By that time, the youngest of their own seven children was in high school.
Catholic Charities reached out to them about the possibility of going through the process of being licensed to foster infants.
They didn’t have to think about the request for long, said Kay. God made sure of that.
“It was literally an awakening,” said Kay. “I was awakened in the middle of the night, honest.
“It was like the good Lord slapped me across the head and said, ‘You’ve got to do this!’”
Though he didn’t feel the slap, Cecil’s response to his wife’s calling was simple: “Whatever you want to do.”
For the next 20 years, the couple said they “lived on the edge” . . . and loved every minute of it.
“We never knew when that call was coming in,” said Kay. “I stayed prepared all the time. I had one closet stocked because we supplied everything.”
And how did she feel when she got a call to pick up an infant?
“I was on cloud nine,” said Kay. “We went to the hospital, picked them up and had them under our care while the mothers were trying to make a decision to parent or to place for adoption.”
“Actually, it was a lot of fun,” added Cecil. “Going to hospitals and picking up newborns, walking out with them and having people stare at you.”
The babies came from diverse backgrounds and situations.
“Every story was different,” said Cecil.
But once the baby was in the arms of this couple, the story was the same — the newborn became part of the family. No plans were ever altered.
“They went everywhere with us,” said Kay. “You would not believe the places we took these babies.
“If we had a vacation planned, the babies went with us.”
The couple even got a call to pick up a baby the morning of their son’s wedding.
“We had to go on Saturday morning to pick her up,” said Kay. “At three o’clock that afternoon, our son was getting married in Lawrence.
“A few years later, our daughter was getting married in Florida. We got a baby on Monday and left for the wedding on Thursday, taking a newborn with us.”
Cecil took particular delight in the attention they got traveling with a newborn.
“People would ask, ‘Who’s the mother?’” he said. “And I would say, ‘She is.’
“We went to a lot of places and met a lot of really nice people.”
“We were probably the only couple who went to their 50th wedding anniversary with a car seat in the back of the car,” Cecil added.
The time the babies stayed with the couple varied between hours and weeks, rarely extending to a few months.
But no matter the time, the couple grew quickly to love them and relinquishing care was difficult.
“It was very hard,” said Kay. “But we went into this knowing we had raised seven children and we did not want to raise any more.
“You have to trust in the Lord that they’re going to wonderful homes and they’ll be loved and cared for.”
Many of the adoptive families have stayed in touch with the Wehrs through social media; they get cards with pictures every Christmas.
And they believe foster parenting is an important part of the pro-life movement.
“Any kind of support we can give to these moms, so they know there is an alternative to abortion,” said Kay. “Catholic Charities is there to help them.
“And Catholic Charities is totally nonjudgmental. They just listen and give help and support.
“And they give the mothers support after they [choose] adoption. They counsel them and help them through the separation process.”
The Wehrs have since retired from foster care, have downsized their home and are now spending time with their 13 grandchildren.
But they don’t regret a moment spent with their 46 foster infants.
“When you’re doing God’s work, isn’t it supposed to be a sacrifice?” asked Kay. “This was such a joy!”