Meet Lula Mae Walker, who’s been a foster parent to 300 kids
The Fort Lauderdale woman has also had nine kids of her own and adopted 11 others. Happy holidays ... from a busy household.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
As a child, Lula Mae Walker loved to dress up her dolls and dream about becoming a real mom some day. Now 73, she reflects on her decades of parenthood with a smile, proud of the children she and her husband brought into the world and the joy they have given her.Skip to next paragraph
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Her first-born, Charles, arrived in 1952, followed by sisters Florence and Denise, then a brother Dennis. After that came Katrina, Desiree, David, and Dwight. Rounding off the brood in 1968 was Twyla.
But while most people might have stopped at nine, Ms. Walker found room in her heart and her home for more, reaching out to needy youngsters on a scale few could even contemplate. Over the past 24 years, she has added to her family by adopting 11 more children – and fostering at least 300 others. Then there are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren – 85 in all.
“There was never a dull moment, I’ll tell you that,” she admits, raising her eyes to the ceiling and chuckling fondly at the memories. “If I slowed down, I don’t know what would happen to me. My life is about kids, my whole life.”
Even more remarkable is that she has been a single mom since the late 1970s: Her husband died at 53. His passing was closely followed by other family adversity, including the deaths of two of her sisters. Her grief had the potential to overwhelm her, and the prospect of being alone once the last of their children grew up and left home was formidable.
“By that time I only had two kids left living with me. I had had so much tragedy and a good friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you go into foster care? I think it will help you.’ So I went to a meeting about it. I enjoyed it, tried all the classes, and signed up.”
First to arrive were foster children Anton, 5, and Anice, 6. She felt immediately at ease with children at her feet again. “Then came a little girl from up North, a teenager who had had serious problems in her life. She was so sweet and such a special little girl. Then I got five more kids and so it went on,” she recalls. “The foster people would say: ‘Mrs. Walker, they have got to move on, don’t fall in love with the kids.’ But I fell in love with all of them.”
Life at her modest one-story home in a black working-class neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been a revolving door. Most foster children have arrived with emotional baggage – abandoned, neglected, or abused, such as two sisters who, aged just 12 and 13, each had babies, having been sexually abused by the same man.
By day, Walker would show them how to care for their babies. By night, she tended to the infants to allow the girls some sleep.
“They were just babies themselves,” she says.
Many children suffered from trust issues and behavioral difficulties. But not once did she consider giving up on any of them. She lost her own mother when she was 18, “so I have a sense of what it is to not have a mom around,” she says. “I can relate to them, sit down and talk with them. Some kids give you problems, but we have got to reach out to them when they are hurting and find out why they do what they do.”
That lesson even applied the time two foster daughters stole Walker’s new car, rounded up two of her other children, and sped off on a joyride. They were found by police after a two-hour hunt. “I just thank God they were safe. They apologized, but one of them had to go to the detention center for two weeks,” she says. “The other one felt really bad, but she thought I wasn’t going to let her come home. She said, ‘No one would want me any more’ – I have had so many say that to me. I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to kick you out. I love you.’ ”
Walker ended up adopting her.