Ohio foster mom retires after 40 years, 152 kids
Written by PAULA SCHLEIS, Akron Beacon Journal   
Sunday, 20 October 2013 06:16

KENT, Ohio (AP) — Loretta Busch was the first, a 14-year-old rescued from abusive parents after she slipped a letter to another child outside her bedroom window asking for help.

Brian Lewis was the last, a timid 14-year-old with a shaved head and just 77 pounds clinging to his malnourished frame.

Between Loretta and Brian were 150 other children spanning four decades, all given to the temporary care of Marlene Tromczynski.

There isn't a day that the woman known to many as Mom Trom doesn't receive a phone call or visit from one of the dozens of foster children who found their way to her, but she has officially retired from that role with the Portage County Department of Job and Family Services.

At age 72, the Kent woman is ready to do a little traveling, and maybe tackle those tubs of sewing, knitting and other craft supplies that have gone untouched.

"This is the first time I've had an empty house since 1961," said Tromczynski. That was the year she gave birth to the first of her three biological children.

But empty is a relative term. Her house remains filled with memories, a few heartbreaking, but mostly warm recollections of mornings getting ready for school, evenings discussing the day around the dinner table, and summers full of activities.

Alexander Gless, 22, said he learned very quickly that the Tromczynski home was more than shelter.

"I was really angry when I came into care," he said. "I had anger problems. She gave me someone to talk to and she was a really good listener. Because of the care she provided for me, I was able to become a better man."

"She always strengthened us," he continued. "Whatever ailment we had, whatever we'd been through, she strengthened us. And she always made sure we had stuff to do. We went biking, swimming, Cedar Point. She gave us chores. She kept us busy."

Nicole Leyman, 29, remembers Mom Trom helping to teach her how to drive, encouraging her to find a job and stressing the importance of saving money. Leyman, a mother herself now, said she's a better parent for the lessons learned during the four years that she and her twin brothers stayed with Tromczynski.

She still remembers that first day the caseworker dropped her off, the fear of being in a strange house with a strange family.

"But once you walked in, the house was so welcoming ... I just remember walking through the door, and Marlene standing there with a big smile on her face," Leyman said.

Leyman said that night and each after, everyone in the house sat at the same table for dinner, taking turns talking about their day.

"It felt like family," she said.

Tromczynski insisted her charges behave like family, whether it was carving pumpkins together or learning how to respect each other during disputes.

Being a foster parent was never just about offering a child a temporary place to live, she said.

"You've got to invest in these kids and be a part of their lives," she said.

Daniele Fisher, 28, said Tromczynski was the living embodiment of a real mother.

"I've never had somebody in my life more willing to go to bat for me," she said. "If she thought somebody slighted you in some way or was unfair to you, no matter what the reason, she was there with her claws out. She'd go to war for you."

And it wasn't just the children affected by her unconditional love.

Linda Leyman, who had to relinquish custody of her three children for several years, calls Tromczynski "mom" as well.

"When I went through rehab, I was just grateful there was a family out there with a big heart," Leyman said. "I was just so grateful she and her family opened their arms and their home. She's amazing."

Tromczynski said the desire to foster a child came in 1974. She and her husband, Edward, had two boys and a girl. Her sons often teamed up against their sister, so she longed to have a second girl to even the score.

Her first case was Loretta Busch, who said she didn't even know how to eat with silverware.

"I learned from the very first day, there's love in this house," said Busch, now 54. She stayed with Mom Trom into adulthood and while she attended college. And in later years when she met with a challenging time, she moved back for a couple more years.

That's happened with other foster children.

Daniele Fisher returned to her as an adult when she found herself homeless and pregnant. She stayed with Tromczynski through the birth of her son.

"I've been through a few foster homes. I was in the system since I was 2 weeks old. And I can tell you, Mom does it for the right reasons. Not because she was called to do it. She does it because she genuinely loves kids, and she genuinely thinks nobody should be unloved," Fisher said.

Throughout most of her fostering career, Tromczynski has been a single mother. Her husband, Edward, died unexpectedly at the age of 38, in 1979.

With the loss of the family's breadwinner, she considered herself fortunate to be able to keep her children together. That drove her to wanting to continue providing a safe place for others to land.

"I was lucky enough, by the grace of God, to keep my kids. I didn't lose my kids because I didn't have my husband, and I wanted to give back," she said.

She's cared for as many as six kids at a time, with twin beds in three rooms. Some stayed for just a few days; others for years.

She's fostered children as young as 8, but her preference was always teenagers. Emotionally, she always thought that was the "smart choice" for her.

"I knew when my kids left, they would have a mouth big enough to say, 'I need some help.' So I would feel somewhat safe when they would go because I taught them to have a big mouth," she said. "The little ones, it would kill me to let them go because they might not be able to speak up."

Still, Scott Lazzara, supervisor for the county's Children Services agency, said it's very rare to find a foster parent who wants teenagers.

"Before I became a supervisor, I used to call Marlene to say I have this kid and I can't find a home, and Marlene would say 'Scott, don't say any more. I'll take him.'?"

"She never turned a kid down. ... She would take the worst of the worst. This one," he said of Tromczynski, "will be hard to replace."

___

Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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