In 1995 Debi Rolfing received a cradleboard from Kootenai elder Agnes Kenmille while Agnes completed a blessing of the Kootenai Lodge. Debi thought, "Isn't that cute" with plans to place hang the cradleboard somewhere at the historic lodge.
That cradleboard proved to be more than a decorative addition to the historic Kootenai Lodge, it became a prophecy of Debi's role as a foster mother to newborn infants - two of them who are of Native American descent.
While waiting for adoption, newborn infants begin life in the sweet embrace of Debi at her beloved home on the shores of Swan Lake and her oceanfront home in Maui.
The timeless days she experiences while caring for a baby are a long way from the fast-paced, business-suit days she has spent as a real estate broker and developer in Maui since 1978. After experiencing phenomenal success in her career, Debi came to a turning point, "I wanted a smaller life."
She found that "smaller" life in a literal sense when she was introduced to the idea of serving as a foster mother to newborns through friend Dia Hollinger, Adoptions Counselor for Lutheran Social Services in Kalispell, Montana.
Nurturing was as natural as breathing for Debi, who could not only manage the details of huge, upscale real estate projects, but also the multitudes of people involved. Her life was filled to the brim with success, friends, and family but she found herself looking for something more - something she discovered in the simple, pure pleasure of caring for a baby.
The first "angel baby" as she called her, arrived in March 1999 and was in Debi's care for nearly three weeks. She knew then, "It is what fills my heart."
Debi felt she could provide a safe haven for newborns while adoption paper work is being completed. When everything is in place, babies are placed in the arms of their new adoptive parents.
That year two more babies, "Patrick" and Will, found their way into her Montana home - and into her heart.Patrick, a delicate little boy with wispy blonde hair and blue eyes arrived late in summer for a three-week stay. He was the highlight of Debi's summer and an enchanting addition to the visits of family and friends.
Shortly afterwards Will arrived with the golden days of autumn. He remained in Debi and Mark's care for over two months because of his special needs. His long stay ended happily with a storybook adoption by a local family.
Debi's commitment to foster care deepened. She became licensed with the state of Hawaii and became an active member of the Hawaii State Foster Parent's Association.
New life came with the new millennium when a very special and fragile baby girl was placed in Debi and Mark's Maui home Jan. 14, 2000. The couple called her "Malia," the Hawaiian name for Mary, after Mark's mother. Malia was delivered into her adoptive parents arms just four days later, with aloha spirit and a baby's breath haku head lei adorning her tiny head.
Mother's Day took on new meaning for Debi when she and Mark flew to Honolulu to pick up a newborn baby boy needing their cradle care. They spent the afternoon at Kapiolani Children's Hospital comforting his tearful birthmother. As they left, to take him to their Maui home, Debi and Mark reassured her that her son would be in loving care until his adoption. This precious boy with sparkling dark eyes and a head of curls would be known as "Kimo," Hawaiian for James and named in honor of Mark's father, Jim Rolfing.
After a hot dry summer in Montana followed by a welcome stretch of rain, Indian Summer arrived with their first Native American newborn. Alia, a baby girl with Sioux Indian heritage fulfilled the prophecy of the cradle board presented to Debi by the Kootenai elder so many years ago. She would be the sixth baby to find her way into Debi's life.
Just when she thought there would be no more babies in this first year of the new millennium, a call came from Maui. Within 12 hours she was on a plane, Maui bound, to pick up two-day old twin girls.
"Leilani" & "Noelani"
Tagged "Baby A" and Baby B" at the hospital, Debi quickly named them "Leilani" and "Noelani" because of their Hawaiian descent. Any apprehension about caring for twins quickly dissolved because the twin's easy dispositions and good health made double duty seem easy.
And then came another call. There was yet another angel baby who needed special care and the safe haven of Debi and Mark's Maui home. Baby boy "Jack" arrived and the household brimmed with bottles, diapers, nannies - and love.
The next baby's story brought another chapter to the storybook adoption of Will by a local family.
Daniel came to Kootenai Lodge when he was just one day old and scarcely six pounds. This Gerber baby boy had lots of curly hair and big blue eyes. After over five weeks in care with Debi and Mark, Daniel was adopted by the same family who had adopted Will less than a year before.
Debi and Mark were blessed by becoming godparents to Daniel and joyfully continue their relationship with the family and their two foster babies Will and Daniel, who are now brothers.
The next babies came during a painful time.
September 11, 2001 America was attacked by terrorists and thousands of American family members perished.
But even in the darkest moment there is a point of light.
For the Kootenai Lodge family it was a baby girl born on this sad day. She quickly became known as "Faith" because her sweet presence helped everyone look ahead, beyond the despair and fear that shadowed the days after the attack.
Sleepy at first, it was not long before her perky personality showed through, making smiles break through tears during these difficult days.
During her month-long stay she touched the lives of the many family members who had traveled to Kootenai Lodge to help with an industrious fall clean-up and helped them "Keep the Faith."
Then another baby girl briefly entered their lives. "Hope" arrived and stayed one night while waiting for her foster mother to return from travels. "Hope" was bright-eyed, cherub-faced, and had long, glossy, dark hair. Her tiny spirit helped everyone at Kootenai Lodge face each day with hopeful hearts.
The year 2002 opened a new year and a new chapter for a healing nation struggling to make sense of the September 11th tragedy.
It was easier to discover the promise of better days in the face of a babe.
Kobe arrived in May during the NBA playoffs, which made naming him an easy task for Mark. Within a few hours notice Debi and Mark flew to Honolulu to rescue this beautiful baby boy of African American and Asian ancestry.
While Kobe was in foster care Debi received an email from a friend whom she had assisted in the adoption of a baby girl two years earlier. The message contained the prayer of St. Theresa and asked her to make a wish. Debi wished that Kobe would find his forever family.
Ten days later Kobe was placed in the loving arms of her friends who had sent the email and had been waiting for a sign to guide them in completing their family. Kobe now has twin brothers and an older sister to share his life.
Debi's wish and prayer were answered.
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption ~ The "Triplett Tour Fore Adoption"
Cause follows Triplett through course
Triplett helps foster kids find homes
Triplett's Earn "Angels in Adoption" Award
In August curly-haired, chubby-cheeked "Marcus" was born. His adoption counselor "Angel Patty" delivered him to Maui into Debi and Mark's care.
"Marcus" blended ancestry of Samoan/Japanese and African American gave him a local Maui appearance of a Polynesian "bruddah."
He became a part of Debi and Mark's Maui and Montana families during two months in foster care and stayed long enough to reveal a zesty spirit and charming personality.
Winning the hearts of all those blessed to meet him, "Marcus" is thriving in the home of his forever family.
Baby Grace joined the household before Marcus's departure. Weighing in at 4 pounds 6 ½ ounces she was truly "small and mighty" with her vigor and ability to thrive. Her bright dark eyes seemed to pull in the world around her for her careful and joyful inspection. Grace became a local girl when an Auntie on Maui adopted her.
Valentine's Day 2003 brought sweet Nalani into the hearts and home of Debi and Mark.
Although she arrived into this world a bit premature, Nalani was very alert, taking in all the sights and sounds of her Maui surroundings and temporary foster family.
Nalani's Hawaiian/Chinese ancestry would fit perfectly with her new forever mommy and daddy's heritage.
Loss had overwhelmed the couple since September 11, 2001. Her forever daddy had his office in the World Trade Center but was spared because he happened to be in the downtown Manhattan office on that tragic day. His absence from the scene was painfully obvious the days following 9/11 as he called the over 300 families of his co-workers lost in the disaster, to bear the sad news. Nalani's forever mommy had also suffered considerable family loss to other tragic circumstances.
The adoption of Nalani and the presence of her Aloha spirit amidst the healing New York City are a testament of renewal for just one of the families touched so closely by that tragic day - we have not forgotten…
The next baby to come into care needed a safe haven for three days until he could be reunified with his birth mother. Braydon, a quiet gentle baby seemed to drift into Montana spring on an angel cloud.
On Easter Sunday, just four days after the baby’s reunification, the Montana Child and Family Services called with a special request. A medically fragile three month-old boy needed to be placed in a safe home. Having only provided foster care to newborns, Debi and Mark welcomed the challenge. Sebastian would bless their Easter celebration and the weeks that followed.
The next foster baby and his family touched Debi in a deep and special way. Deeply rooted to their Native American heritage the family rallied together to help in the decision for baby Matthew’s future. With their help and support the birth mother made the choice to parent her baby boy which involved juggling her senior year of high school with motherhood. The young mother said, “I am choosing my child over my childhood.”
Debi was so impressed with the maturity and selflessness of this young woman. Matthew was placed in his mother’s arms – with the mother’s knowledge that Debi is always just a phone call away. This strong mother and her son Matthew have remained in the Rolfing’s hearts and lives.
Matthew was recently placed in his mother’s arms – with the mother’s knowledge that Debi is always just a phone call away.
The nursery remained busy with visits from Matthew and a “bit of Joy.” Wee little baby “Joy” came into Debi’s home for just one night but the pretty, peaceful baby left her tiny footprint on the legacy of Debi’s foster care. Happily, “Joy’s” placement went quickly without a hitch so her adoptive parents scarcely missed a minute of her life, which unfolds so magically in newborns, like butterfly wings.
At the candlelight placement ceremony in Debi and Mark’s Maui home, “Joy’s” forever mommy performed a beautiful hula followed by Joy’s forever daddy expressing his blessing and thank you with a Hawaiian chant. This Hawaiian-Caucasian bundle of “Joy” brought additional meaning to Debi and Mark’s ohana of aloha (Home of Love.)
Born prematurely at one pound 14 ounces, Yuukia was "loved to life" on the healing grounds of Kootenai Lodge in the summer of 2004.
Small in size but gigantic in her strength and resiliency, Yuukia endured two surgeries before her full term birth date, which was six weeks after she was born.
In spite of the insurmountable medical difficulties surrounding Yuukia’s premature birth and critically fragile condition, she had the spirit of a bright star that helped her shine and thrive while in Debi’s care.
When the time was right, Yuukia was transferred to her long-term foster family. Debi continues to offer her volunteer respite care to this family.
On a spring day in 2007, just before Mother's Day,” Angel Baby Nathaniel" was born at Maui Memorial Hospital. The tiny baby boy was born a bit premature with in utero maternal addiction challenges. Airlifted to the children's hospital in Honolulu while only hours old, Nathaniel held on as a mighty fighter. Four days later, after the baby’s condition strengthened, Debi and Mark flew to Oahu to bring Nathaniel back to their cradle care home at Kapalua, Maui and his island home.
Nathaniel struggled through newborn addiction withdrawal in the loving arms of Debi and Mark. Mark took the lead in caring for this angel baby because Debi was recovering from a major surgery. This limited her to lifting only five pounds - and Nathaniel fit the quota. Hours upon hours sweet Nathaniel spent his withdrawal process skin to skin near Debi's heart. The direct attachment and heart-to-heart beats strengthened Nathaniel's continuing will to live.
Nathaniel was reunited with his Hawaiian ancestors and relatives to be raised as a Maui boy. A bright future lies ahead for his young birthmother as she continues her inpatient rehabilitation for methamphetamine addiction.
Debi and Mark will continue volunteer respite care for Nathaniel's "tutu" (grandmother) as she adjusts, joining a growing number of "Kapuna," Grandparents caring for their Children's Children.
The couple has fostered 24 babies to date. All of these babies have found their “forever” homes and a forever place in the hearts of Debi and Mark.
The babies have all had their own unique personalities and stories but it was Will, whose long stay and special needs, made him the star in Debi's ministry of foster care.
Debi & Will
Will arrived early in October of 1999 with a more complicated situation. He was a Down syndrome child and Debi knew placement would be difficult. So she settled into the Keresey Cabin at Kootenai Lodge and vowed to stick with "God's Will" - as he became known - until an adoptive family was found.
Debi celebrated each day of Will's life as she watched the frail little boy flourish under her care.
There were the acknowledgements of his weekly "birthdays" and then the one-month milestone that threw Debi deeper into her mission to do her best for this child.
She spread the word that Will needed a family - to her many friends and contacts in Maui, Montana, and throughout the United States.
Christmas neared along with his two-month birthday and Will still was without a family.
Debi felt strangely drawn to attend mass one Sunday morning - in spite of the challenges of bundling and transporting a baby in the winter on the snowy roads.
When she arrived at St. Catherine's Catholic Church in Bigfork, Montana with Will snuggled in his "Moses" basket, Father Sodja announced to the congregation that the baby needed a family.
After mass the women thronged around the baby but it was a blonde man standing politely, quietly in the background that caught Debi's eye.
The crowd of women eventually dispersed and the man stepped forward. Debi smiled and greeted him with the question, "Would you like to adopt him?" Kirk Penrod replied slowly, yet firmly, "Could be."
That "could be" grew into a definite "yes" after Kirk talked the adoption over with his wife Charlene and their two teenaged daughters, Alison and Jennifer. The family had previously made the decision to reach out to a child through adoption and all the signs said that it was "God's Will" for them. Will was delivered into their arms in time for Christmas.
It was hard for Debi to say good-bye to Will after 74 days of mothering, but she had the satisfaction of delivering the Penrod family's best Christmas gift of all - a gift that was wrapped in the warm, healing touch of Debi and the Kootenai Lodge.
Project Next: After a life-threatening bout with cancer, veteran golf analyst Mark Rolfing beats the odds and is now giving back in every way he knows how.
-By Ann Miller, HI Luxury, June/July 2017
Feature Story from Bigfork Eagle Newspaper on 9/3/03
Feature Story from Midweek Newspaper on 12/24/03
Foster Care and Adoption Story
"The Storybook Place" - Flathead Living magazine cover story Fall 2004 (PDF)
"From Copper Kings to Cradles" -Montana Living magazine Autumn 2000 cover story (PDF)