Dorothy and her husband Bob had six biological children and adopted 14 more children, most of them with special needs. And in 1973, they founded Adopt A Special Kid, (AASK), the first U.S. organization to focus on special needs children.
Here is Dorothy’s incredible story:
Born in San Francisco on December 23rd, 1923, the eldest of two children, Dorothy attended UC Berkeley and then became a pianist.
But when Dorothy married Ted Atwood, she gave up her music career in the 1950’s to eventually become the mother of five children. She and Ted then opened their hearts to expand their family further by adopting two Amerasian boys, both unwanted refugees of the Korean War.
But in 1963, Ted died, and Dorothy and the kids were left on their own.
Yet despite her struggles, as the number of victims of the Vietnam War grew, Dorothy added two disabled children from that war.
Now it was Dorothy and nine children, and with money scarce, each of the children pitched in to help one another.
As a woman in her 40’s, Dorothy hoped to remarry, but with nine children, many of them disabled, that seemed unlikely. Then in the late 1960’s Dorothy met Bob DeBolt, a civil engineer who was divorced and had one child.
When he arrived for their first date, he was greeted by Dorothy and her nine children, and as he later recalled, “The door opened,” and “here was this mass of little people.”
But that didn’t scare Bob off and he and Dorothy were married in 1970.
And the adoptions continued. The couple started AASK, to help even more seemingly unwanted children to find homes.
These children were paraplegic or blind or had no arms and/or legs, or had spina bifida, or were suffering from wounds or from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, coming out of war zones.
The DeBolt family was so remarkable, that in 1977, actor Henry Winkler (The Fonz from “Happy Days,” among many roles) made an Academy Award winning documentary about Dorothy, Bob and their family entitled, “Who Are the DeBolts? (And Where Did They Get 19 Kids?)”
Later, the DeBolts adopted a 20th child, Reynaldo, a Mexican street kid with a paralyzed leg, who was also featured with the family in a sequel to that documentary.
Dorothy and Bob remained active adoption advocates until 89 year old Dorothy passed away in their El Cajon, California home on February 24th, 2013 of cardiac arrest.
When the Los Angeles Times asked Bob why she adopted so many children and helped so many more, he said it was partly through her faith, as she kept “Thank you, God” signs displayed around the home, but mostly “she was motivated by the fact that because these kids were disabled didn’t mean they weren’t adoptable.
“These weren’t throwaway kids,” he continued. “Her goal was to allow every child to have a permanent home.”
One of Dorothy’s favorite stories was of an instance that took place when she was getting ready for an out-of-town trip and scrambling to get her housework done before the kids got home.
The phone rang and when Dorothy answered, a child said, “Mom, this is Jennifer. Can I go to the playground after school?” Dorothy replied, “Sure honey, but be home by 5,” and then hung up. A few seconds later she realized, “Oh my God, we don’t have a kid named Jennifer.”
It was a story that always made Dorothy laugh as it brought joy to her heart.