KANSAS, OK — For the past 55 years, Ivy and Nelson Pendergrass always have had a child in their home.
Their youngest, an 18-year-old daughter, graduated Friday night from Kansas High School in Delaware County and has been accepted to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College on a cheerleading scholarship.
She is one of more than 200 foster children the couple have taken into their home and offered love, friendship, encouragement and shelter.
“We quit counting after 200; we don't know what number she is,” Ivy Pendergrass said.
Ivy, 80, and Nelson, 81, were honored this month by Gov. Mary Fallin and the Department of Human Services for their extraordinary commitment to Oklahoma's children.
“We have just felt it was an honor to serve as foster parents,” Ivy Pendergrass said.
‘I was their daughter'
“Even to this day I still call them Mom and Dad,” said Tammie Bledsaw, of Tulsa. Her two daughters, ages 8 and 3, also call them “Grandma Ivy” and “Grandpa,” she said.
At age 13, Bledsaw moved in with the Pendergrasses on Feb. 11, 1983. She lived with them until she aged out of the system.
“I was lucky. I got to stay with them the entire time,” Bledsaw said. “They never once treated me like a foster child; I was their daughter. I was always introduced as their child.
“For them, it's all about loving you,” Bledsaw said.
She said words from “Dad” stay with her.
“I am 40 and to this day he still says it to me — I am valuable and precious,” Bledsaw said. “You hear that enough and you start you believing it.”
On Bledsaw's 18th birthday, she came home from school and found that Ivy had filled her bedroom with helium balloons.
“They always made the day about us,” Bledsaw said.
Bledsaw said she loved her home.
“When I went to college, they drove me to my dorm room on a Friday afternoon,” Bledsaw said. “By Friday night I was back home.”
Bledsaw said she had some behavioral problems as a young teen, but Nelson and Ivy never game up on her or any of the foster children.
“They always said they were in it for the long haul,” Bledsaw said.