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'One big family': 88-year-old F-M foster mom has taken in over 300 kids

Eighty-eight-year-old Fargo foster mother Marian Kadrie has been honored as part of the national Angels in Adoption program. She, and her late husband, Orviell have taken in more than 300 foster children in the last few decades. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service1 / 2
A photo of Marian Kadrie with her husband, Orviell, is displayed on a table along with photos of the first two foster children Vinh Trinh and Minh Trinh, who were from Vietnam. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — Marian Kadrie is a tiny lady with a heart as big as her home.

After more than three decades of taking in foster children, the 88-year-old Fargo woman was recently honored as one of the nation's Angels in Adoption.

Between working with Lutheran Social Services' program for unaccompanied refugee minors and Cass County Social Services, Kadrie and her late husband, Orviell, took in more than 300 children over the years.

The stays for some children and teens are for a few days or weeks, while others stay years.

"I just keep them as long as they're needed here," Kadrie said. "These kids, they each have a need. And you do what you can with them. It's been a wonderful journey."

In Kadrie's modest south Fargo rambler, there's food, clean clothes and clean beds. She enrolls the children in schools and gets them to doctors, psychologists and the courts.

At 4 feet 9 inches tall, the white-haired Kadrie isn't physically imposing, but the woman called "Grandma" by many of her foster children is a dynamo.

Over the years, there have been times when as many as five children at a time were under her roof, she said.

"I'm retired, and I can do it. I'm 88. I have a vehicle in good working order. I can drive. I'm in a good place," Kadrie said. "They give me a reason to get up in the morning. They honestly give me energy."

The Angels in Adoption program is organized by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and gives members of Congress the chance to honor their constituents for their contributions to child welfare and adoption. This year's events were held in Washington, D.C., Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 25-27.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., nominated Kadrie for the honor.

'Amazing energy'

Jennifer Thoreson, a Cass County social worker, said Kadrie's faith drives and motivates her.

"She's got amazing energy. And she truly cares about seeing the kids do well," Thoreson said.

When kids arrive in the foster care system, they have lots of needs and appointments, Thoreson said.

"It's a challenging job," she said. "The kids we're working with have had a lot of trauma and different life experiences. And they bring all that to foster care. It takes a lot of skill to be able to manage that, and dedication to continue to do that year after year."

Thoreson said Cass County is lucky to have Kadrie in the program.

"She's a treasure, she's an amazing person," Thoreson said.

Kids 'from every country'

Marian and Orviell began informally taking in children in 1979, when they were asked to take care of four siblings from Iran.

In August of that year, just months after the youngest of their own four children had graduated from high school, two boys arrived from Iran, escorted by their father. Their sisters came in December.

Other children followed, Kadrie said.

In 1984, she met Barry Nelson, then the director of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSS), which helps resettle refugees in the state.

"I've got these kids coming from Vietnam," Nelson told her. "Could you take in two boys?"

Despite their previous work, the Kadries didn't have a foster home license. Nelson helped them get that license to become part of the LSS program for unaccompanied refugee minors.

The boys, Minh and Vinh Trinh, "didn't know a word of English," Kadrie said.

She called a Vietnamese family at the school and asked the father if his son could help the two boys, then 13 and 15. "He almost lived here that summer," she said.

Minnesota State University Moorhead also had student mentors who spent hours each week with the boys.

The father of the boys had been imprisoned in Vietnam for giving medical aid to American troops, Kadrie said.

"I promised them they would see their parents again," she said. And while it took more than five years to happen, it did.

The Kadries took in children "from every country where we had refugees. I had kids who spoke Arabic, who would come here because I spoke Arabic," Kadrie said.

She had children from China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Bosnia, Pakistan, Liberia, Somalia, "many, many backgrounds," Kadrie said.

'Divine intervention'

The Kadries then began working with Cass County Social Services.

"Once I got to Cass County, it just kind of snowballed," she said. "I have never been without children."

Kadrie grew up on a farm in Sterling, N.D., about 30 miles east of Bismarck, one of four children of Syrian immigrant parents.

At age 19, she married Orviell Kadrie in St. Paul. For more than a decade, they lived in California, she said. There, the woman who grew up Muslim, but also attended services at a Lutheran church in her youth, converted to her husband's faith: Baha'i.

The couple moved to Fargo in 1962. Orviell died in 2006 at age 80, she said.

Kadrie said the inclusiveness of the Baha'i faith is a blessing.

"I believe in divine intervention," she said, adding that the teachings of scripture require us all to care for children.

"There isn't anything greater you can do in life (than) to take care of a child," Kadrie said.

'They returned the love'

Kadrie spent 42 years in public education. The first 34 years she worked at Agassiz Junior High School in Fargo as a secretary and office manager.

That gave her a leg up in navigating the education system for her foster children.

After retiring from the Fargo School District, she worked as a paraprofessional in Moorhead schools: two years at Riverside Elementary, and six years at Ellen Hopkins Elementary, she said.

Kadrie gave up being a paraprofessional at age 80. "It was time to retire," she said.

One of Kadrie's daughters, Bonnie Kadrie, said her mother loves to be around people.

"It gives her a reason to get up every day," Bonnie Kadrie said. "She just thinks the world is one big family. These are her children, her relatives. She takes in every kind of kid, from all nationalities and all ages.

"I can't keep up with her," her daughter said. "I don't know if she knows how to slow down."

Kadrie deeply appreciates the Angel in Adoption honor, and encourages others to get involved in helping young people.

"I love those kids. They returned the love. They called me Grandma," Kadrie said.

"At the same time, I had only done what I could do and what I do best," she said. "I haven't done anything extraordinary."