TULSA — Linda Foster’s career choice — placing children in adoptive homes — is a daily reminder of her grandfather, whose love and devotion sustain her during the dark hours of a job that can be both difficult and joyful. Foster is one of two adoption program managers in Oklahoma who oversee 39 adoption specialists. She said paperwork can leave adoption workers frustrated and disheartened. But a small harmonica Foster keeps tucked away in a special place helps make the mountains of paperwork and countless meetings tolerable. The harmonica belonged to Earl Frazer, Foster’s grandfather. When Foster and her siblings gather at her parents’ home in Dewey, the family often reflects on the life of Frazer, who died in 1990. One of Foster’s earliest memories is of her grandfather playing the harmonica she now owns and treasures. "My grandpa was a wonderful man,” Foster said. "I adored him, and he adored me.”
A live savedFrazer was orphaned when he was 3, but his childhood was rescued after he was adopted. Most relatives believe he was placed on the Orphan Train, but the family has no documentation of that. Orphan Trains took children who needed homes by railroad from the East Coast to rural areas in the Midwest and West. His infant and toddler years were marred by tragedy, with the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father, who abandoned him and his older sister, Ethel. Because his father could not be found, Frazer was considered an orphan. One Sunday in 1908, as the family story goes, the Orphan Train stopped in Independence, Kan. Frazer, who was 4, was dressed in his best suit and taken to the church by a social worker. As he sat on the front pew, he turned around and waved to the couple behind him, capturing their hearts. They took him home that day. Relatives believe Ethel rode an Orphan Train, too, and got adopted at an earlier stop than her brother. Because she was older, she was adopted as a farmhand, living a more difficult life, and her brother never saw her again during their childhoods. "I saw him search for his sister and find her,” Foster said. "He was left alone as a child and talked about that, how they were separated and were reunited as adults.”
‘An incredible heart’Steve Dyer of Grove said Foster got him involved in a state Department of Human Services initiative with faith-based adoptions. The initiative recruited 14 churchgoing families in Delaware County to adopt children, he said. Foster also helped the Dyers adopt a precocious but frightened 6-year-old girl who has grown into an inquisitive 15-year-old who loves horses. "I’ve known Linda for 11 years, and she has an incredible heart for children,” Dyer said. Dyer said because of confidentiality rules, most of Foster’s selfless acts are never known. When Foster went to work for the adoption unit, her grandfather said he was proud of her work. "Because of my grandfather’s experiences, it makes me understand the importance of the home study and all the paperwork,” Foster said. "It also makes me an advocate for keeping siblings together for adoption; my grandpa mourned the loss of his sister the most.”
A CLOSER LOOK
The Orphan Train eraThe Orphan Train era is recognized as the beginning of documented foster care in America, according to the Web site of the National Orphan Train Museum in Concordia, Kan. The railroads were used to move children westward from impoverished homes and orphanages. In 1853, Charles Loring Brace and a group of businessmen formed the Children’s Aid Society to help care for the thousands of neglected children in New York. Brace believed "solid, God-fearing homes could be found for the children” in the West and Midwest. Children were taken in groups of 10 to 40 and traveled on trains to selected stops along the way, where they were taken in by families.