Jamie McGuire (left) and Amy Sorenson: sisters by adoption and colleagues in their work in the president's office.
By Lisa Strandberg
For those on both ends of an adoption, family meets them in the middle
Search the internet for “adoption stories” or ask around among your friends and you’ll find tales that mix, in varying proportions, enormous expense, indeterminate waiting, bewilderment and heartbreaking twists of plot. But for all their drama and difference, these stories have at their heart the same theme: unconditional love.
Loving arms and loving hearts are the greatest gift that every adoptive family has to offer, as necessary for children to thrive as food and shelter for their sustenance. The St. Norbert community includes many individuals who have both given and received that gift. Here, from several perspectives, are the stories of family members by adoption. They speak to the abiding relationships that enrich their lives.
A great gift
Since 1992, Amy Sorenson and Jamie McGuire have worked together at St. Norbert in the office of the president, Amy as chief of staff and Jamie as executive assistant to the president. That’s a long working relationship, to be sure, but their personal relationship extends much further back. After all, the two are sisters.
Learning of the connection still surprises some on campus. Says Amy, “When they do find out, they say, ‘Really? Oh, now I see the resemblance.’”
The women always chuckle at the comment. Amy, the elder of the two, was adopted. Their parents, James and Florence Aerts, tried for years to have children and then, in their 30s, adopted infant Amy from the former St. Joseph Orphanage in Green Bay. After three years, they returned to adopt Suzie, another sister.
Three years further on, Florence saw her doctor for fatigue. The cause: At 40, she was, finally, pregnant and expecting Jamie.
Amy said her sister was “the most darling baby ever” and “very well doted over.” But that doting didn’t diminish her parents’ love for her and Suzie. “They always made us feel that we were a gift,” she said. Jamie considers them a gift, too. “To me, they’re not adopted. They’re my sisters,” she says.
The trio grew especially close after their mother’s death at age 59, when Jamie was still a teen. “Life would be so different, so lonely, so empty” if her parents had not adopted Amy and Suzie, she said. “I’m very, very fortunate – more fortunate than they are.”
Following their mother’s death, both Amy and Suzie petitioned the courts to open their adoption records. Amy had a single 30-minute encounter with her birth mother; Suzie learned that hers had died at 40 of a brain aneurysm. Suzie was to die similarly at age 38, leaving behind a husband and a 5-year-old daughter.
That little girl has grown up and now attends St. Norbert, where her aunts treasure her closeness. Says Amy, “We’ve adopted her, so to speak.”
And as for Jamie and Amy? They’re happy to work together. As Jamie puts it, “She’s always told me what to do since I was a little girl and she’s still telling me now, and I’m OK with that.”
A blessed addition
|The Lamberts. From left to right, Stephanie ’10, Tomerot, Chombi and Jessica ’13, on a family vacation in Mexico.
At age 16, plenty of girls are preoccupied with boys, and back in 2004, Steph Lambert ’10 was no exception. In her case, however, the boys who held her in thrall – Chombi and Tomerot – were her newly adopted 4-and 7-year-old brothers.
The boys came from Ethiopia, a country to which Steph herself would soon travel in order to escort other adoptees to the United States.
Prior to the boys’ arrival, the Lambert family – mother Mary, father Mike ’82, Steph ’10 and Jessica ’13 – already was complete by most standards. But unbeknownst to one another, husband and wife each had felt called to add to their family through adoption.
“They felt they were very blessed and wanted to help a child that wasn’t as blessed,” says Steph, now 21.
As family lore has it, Mike and Mary’s mutual wish came to light under the cover of darkness. “For the first and only time in 20 years of marriage, they both woke up in the middle of the night to watch TV,” Steph says.
Airing that night? A program on African adoption.
After watching it, they decided to work with Americans for African Adoption Inc. (AFAA) to bring an Ethiopian child into their family. Ultimately, they became interested in two brothers – AFAA did not separate siblings for adoptive placement – and adopted them both. “It was magical. It was just fantastic,” Steph says of the boys’ arrival five years ago.
Two years later, she stepped in to help other families adopting Ethiopian children. Given the country’s policies at the time, adoptive parents often received prohibitively little notice when their adopted children became available. However, the law did not require them to retrieve their children personally.
Thus, Steph leveraged her youth – “I’m a student, so I’m very flexible,” she says – to bring several adoptees from Addis Ababa to the U.S. with the son of AFAA’s founder. She returned to Africa last year for a semester’s study in Uganda, including internships working with both street children and special-needs adults.
“Some people want to be doctors. Some people want to be zookeepers. I’ve always wanted to go to Africa,” she says.
She plans to return after graduation if circumstances allow it. Until then, she relishes time with her brothers, now 9 and 12, taking them on coffee shop dates for some one-on-one time. “To this day,” she says, “I’m still absolutely crazy about them.”
A conscious choice
|Joe ’86 and Joan Bergner, bringing Audrey home. This photo was taken at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, as the new family returned with Audrey from Kazakhstan.
When Joe Bergner ’86 and his wife, Joan, began to investigate adoption, they found international adoption offered the quickest route to parenthood; further exploration led them to Kazakhstan, where the culture places a high value on children.
“We were meant to be parents of two kids from Kazakhstan,” Joe says. “We say they couldn’t be more ours if we had them ourselves.”
That doesn’t mean the bond they felt with each of their adopted children – Simon, 6, and Audrey, 3 – was instant and identical. Every parent/child relationship follows its own path, whether its origins are in the womb or in a complex international legal system – the workings of which Joe details in blogs chronicling both children’s adoptions: www.bringingsimonhome.com and www.bringingaudreyhome.com.
With Simon, word of the Bergners’ referral – their official pairing with an available child – came like a gift, on Joe’s 40th birthday. When the couple opened the e-mail they knew contained a photo of their son, Joe said, “We saw his face and it was love at first sight.”
Love came about differently in adopting Audrey when Simon was about 3.The little girl was not a favorite at the Kazakh “baby house” as Simon had been; in part because of developmental delays, she had garnered a reputation as “the naughty one” among her caregivers.
During the month-long visitation required for the Bergners to complete the adoption, and even after they had taken her home, an often-distant Audrey would bang her head against the wall. The behavior frightened her parents and, most of all, her big (but still little) brother, whose former glow began to fade.
Joe and Joan had expected to feel happiness throughout this process; what they began to feel instead was fear that what they had done in large part for their son’s benefit was destroying him.
In the midst of such doubt, Joan one morning found her Bible opened randomly by Simon to Psalm 35. During previous study she had underlined the latter half of verse 10: “Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?”
Inspired by a message they considered divine, Joan and Joe made a choice: They would love this little girl - their little girl - through all circumstances. And they have, and do. Audrey's adoption was finalized in a Brown County courtroom in December.
“What this adoption has taught me is that love is a commitment more than a feeling,” Joan says. “She was meant for us and we were meant for her.”
Over time, the commitment they made to Audrey and the love they give her every day is offering the rewards the Bergners expected, says Joan.
“Sometimes Joe and I will say: ‘Hear it? They’re laughing.’ It’s a beautiful thing.”
Look here for web-only content that expands on topics presented in the current St. Norbert College Magazine (PDF).
Too 'Old School’ for our own good?
President Tom Kunkel challenges colleges and universities to embrace new ways of delivering higher education.
A new face in the cafe
Steve Pyne (Dining Services), who has Down syndrome, was profiled in this recent article in the student newspaper, the St. Norbert Times.
St. Norbert College Magazine dropped in on a rehearsal for this three-act operetta production, to be staged on campus.
More than a photo
A gallery of images from a trip that connected a child in Kenya with his sponsors in the United States.
A father’s love
Jeff Kratz ’92 offers a unique perspective on a father’s love.
Words from life
The poetry of Ken Zahorski (English, Emeritus) deals with fathers and sons, phases of life and familiar figures remembered across the years.
Gratzia Villarroel (Political Science) speaks with Dean Michael Marsden on international issues and educational opportunities.
Man of property
Joe Jones ’12 sits down with Mike Dauplaise ’84 to discuss an education in entrepreneurism and the launch of Jones’ third business. He is 21 years old.
Dick Bennett on Gary Grzesk
The basketball legend remembers his years presiding over the storied
defensive career of Grzesk, current coach to the Green Knight men.
Your ideas for future magazine stories are most welcome. Write to the editor with any suggestions or comments.
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