Reaching across borders: international adoption at MC

Lily and Luda, daughters of Dr. Stacey Wilner and her husband, Kevin. Photo courtesy of Stace Wilner

The professors at Maryville College seem consistently to possess at least one common trait: a dedication to bettering the lives of children.

Not only do they educate students in the classroom, but they also quite often foster personal relationships with students.  Semester after semester, MC professors take on the role of nurturer, assuming an almost parental role.

That being said, it is not surprising that so many MC faculty members have chosen to adopt children internationally.
International adoption is a very difficult and time-consuming process. It involves entire dossiers of paperwork as well as background checks, visits with social workers, and numerous trips to both the state capital and the country from which one is seeking to adopt.

Why is it, then, that many MC professors have sought international adoptions?

Dr. Sam Overstreet, Dr. Angelia Gibson, Dr. Stacey Wilner, Dr. Kathie Shiba, Dr. Nancy Lockin-Sofer and Dr. Doug Sofer are among the proud parents, a surprisingly large, concentrated group considering that the state of Tennessee saw 336 inter-country adoptions in 2010.

While they all had unique personal experiences in the adoption process, most professors agreed on one thing: international adoption has been an absolute blessing.

There are a lot of complexities involved in adopting children.

Primarily, the older the child, the harder the adjustment will be. These children have become accustomed to living in orphanages. They’ve been more familiarized with the cultures of their respective nations. Suddenly, they’re transplanted and placed into new families.

This would be, for anyone, wildly overwhelming.

The benefit for children adopted by MC professors is that they’re welcomed into loving environments with adoptive parents who are undoubtedly some of the smartest and most understanding individuals.

Dr. Stacey Wilner, MC choir director, spoke of the adoption of two beautiful daughters, Ludmila and Luba, from Kazakhstan. At their times of adoption, the girls were 8 and 10, respectively.

Interestingly enough, Wilner’s reasons for adopting older children grew out of her childhood love of the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist.”
She and her husband, Kevin, are very supportive of their daughters

Luda and Lily, as Luba chose to be renamed, have adapted quite well over the past few years in the U.S.

“They love when people say they look like us,” Wilner said. “We are their parents, and they know that we love them. And they are so appreciative of everything they have.”

Gibson, assistant professor of chemistry, and her husband, Lynn, adopted a daughter from Ethiopia.

“Ironically, we actually discussed the possibility of adoption even before we were married,” Lynn wrote on his personal blog, which details the adoption experience. “Even then, some 18 years ago, we thought it could work well with our family.”

Earlier this spring, the Gibsons adopted Netsanet, a welcomed 3-year-old sister for their three sons. Netsanet, which means freedom, has adapted quite well to life in the United States, but has comically made a habit of asking Gibson to take her to the restroom anytime she feels she is losing her mother’s attention. It seems she has formed a happy attachment to her parents.

From left to right: Will, Netsanet, Owen, and Nate Gibson pose together. They are the children of Lynn and Angelia Gibson. This photo was taken in September of 2011. Photo by Jennifer LaRue

The Sofers have also recently adopted a child from overseas. Partially a result of speaking with Dr. Gibson, the Sofers sought to adopt a child from Ethiopia. After multiple “almosts” and standing near the bottom of a very long waiting list, the Sofers had become a bit discouraged.

Dr. Locklin-Sofer signed up for email alerts through, a website that alerts individuals seeking international adoptions of available children looking for good homes.

“I can’t emphasize enough how meant-to-be this felt,” Locklin-Sofer said. “We were feeling low; we got an email; we made a phone call; we became parents to this fabulous little boy. End of story. Or, rather, the beginning of the story!”

They learned of the 10-month-old on March 25. A few trips to Moscow later, and the Sofers officially gained custody of son Edison on June 15.
“It is the hardest and most fulfilling thing you will ever do,” Wilner said, in reference to adoption.

Gibson agreed, strengthened largely by firm spiritual beliefs. In the words of her husband, Lynn, Gibson said,“God’s grace extends everywhere on earth … even the quiet desperation of contexts like Ethiopia.”

For the Gibsons, faith guided them through the difficult yet invaluable process.

“Doug [Sofer] was very helpful in that he did what I told him to,” Locklin-Sofer joked.  “Actually, he kept me together. He’s my rock.”

The testimonies of these MC professors provide evidence  that, though time-consuming, emotionally exhausting and indescribably difficult, international adoption is not only important, but ultimately brings joy.

Perhaps these fortunate children will one day share in the MC experience their parents so greatly enrich.

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