A special delivery

Who would have thought that a couple in their late 70s could have a baby?  Only in fairy tales, right. Well, for Gene and Gloria O’Neill of Hutchinson, the fairytale was a reality. Shortly after they were married, Gene and Gloria, both in their 40s and living in Eden Prairie, wanted to be foster parents. They brought several children into their home through the years. They adopted three, and kept in touch with others. One girl they stayed in touch with was a four-year-old who came into the O’Neill home about 30 years ago. The O’Neills moved to Hutchinson and built their dream retirement home on a lake near Hutchinson about 10 years ago. Then last year, Gene and Gloria, now in their late 70s, received a phone call that would change everything. Their once four-year-old foster daughter announced she was having a baby. She then asked the couple if they could take care of her new born son until she was able to do it on her own. Their first thought was that they wouldn’t be able to do it, but they turned to God, asking Him for the strength and good health they would need to give themselves to the baby. With trust in God and love in their hearts, they told her that they would be honored to care for her child.  News of Gene and Gloria becoming parents of a newborn, spread through their church (Riverside Assembly of God in Hutchinson) like wildfire. Everyone wanted to help Gene and Gloria, who themselves had earned a reputation of giving to other church members in need. The youth pastor and his wife quickly volunteered the use of their baby equipment and some infant clothing. Needless to say, the O’Neills were quickly moved up to the top of everyone’s prayer list. As the day of the baby’s arrival approached, excitement filled the air. His crib was waiting and full of soft stuffed animals. Baby clothes were folded in the spare bedroom dresser. On March 26, 2009, Baby Myles was born . . . and Gene and Gloria were on top of the world. “I had fun with the fact that we had a baby!”  She would joke with people in stores and restaurants, saying that he was ‘theirs.’  “We took him to church with us every Sunday and he was right there with us.  He was the most peaceful, passive child I have ever seen. We doted on him 24/7. All his needs were met.”  And they took this responsibility very seriously. “When you are caring for someone else’s child, you have to be very careful with them.” When Gloria took Myles to see her doctor, he said, “It’s so good to see a healthy baby.”  They took such good care of him.  And, of her, the doctor said, “Gloria, you look younger and younger every time I see you.” “Myles as an infant brought endless love, happiness and joy that filled our lives with a fountain of youth,” she said. “We felt so young again, that a couple of months after he came to live with us, we even renewed our wedding vows at church.  It was like we were starting our lives all over again.  I felt like a new bride.” When Myles was five months old, they took him on his first vacation to Duluth, along with their adopted daughter, Sarah and her son Brandon.  Gloria taught Brandon how to skip rocks, while little Myles giggled and cooed for Sarah and Gene.  One of the fun things they did together was riding a bike built for several people that had a canopy over head.  They took lots of pictures and made wonderful memories. Myles stayed with Gene and Gloria until right after his first vacation, then returning to his birth mother. Gene and Gloria often get calls requesting that Myles come to stay with them for a few days.  They are always waiting for him with open arms. Each time he arrives, they park in the garage, he looks all around to make sure everything’s still there.  Gloria announces, “Myles, we’re home!” And, he gives them a big smile and wiggles with anticipation to get into the house. “He knows right where his toys are.”  Myles loves to ride on the riding lawn mower with Gene, or do ‘guy things’ with him, like the time they put together his big-boy, plastic tricycle.  “He was watching Gene with the screw driver and then took his turn, just like Gene had taught him.”  When they got it all put together, the sense of accomplishment was evident in his beaming smile. Myles is 20 months old now, and Gloria says, “He went from crawling to running!” One of his favorite things to do is to run around the big circle from their kitchen, to the dining room, through the living room and back again, chasing either Gene or Gloria.  “He’s so clever!  He‘ll stop and listen to hear which way we’re coming from and then he’ll take off running again!” Gloria said with excitement in her eyes. Where it all began… Gloria is a Minnesota farm girl, born in Cokato, moved with her family to a farm in northern Minnesota until adulthood drew her to the big city of Minneapolis, where she worked in real estate and lived with her grandmother, her pillar of faith. Gene was born in upstate New York.  He joined the Marine Corps 1958, while continuing his education at several universities, including Syracuse, East Caroline University and Auburn — earning bachelors and masters degrees.  He later attended Defense Systems Management College, and the University of South California, with another masters degree and then on to U of M for two years pursuing a PhD in Business Administration.  During his military days, he performed two tours of duty in Vietnam:  1966-69 and 1972-73. Gloria had become quite the self-sufficient woman, satisfied with her career, and had no interest or need for a man in her life.  When a mutual friend of theirs tried to set her up with Gene her answer was a constant, no, for several months.Then, as fate would have it, she just happened to be home from work with a cold one day and her friend called again with the familiar request . . . lunch with a handsome, commanding officer from Fort Snelling.  No pressure, just a little lunch. She chuckles at the memory, “Here I was, blowing my nose with a horrible cold. I thought this will get rid of him!  So, I went!”  Much to her surprise, with blushing cheeks some 30 years later, she recalls the first sighting of her prince charming…  “When Major Gene O’Neill came walking across that parking lot in his ‘dress greens,’ I thought to myself, “Oh, my gosh, I should have stayed home. This could be the start of something big!”   She said with a school-girl giggle. Gene asked Gloria if they could have dinner together that night.  She wasn’t up for going out again, so Gene came over and made her some soup.  Six days after they met, he asked her to marry him. Her response?  “You . . . are . . .crazy!”  She wasn’t about to make a commitment that fast.  But, Gene knew what he wanted and he wasn’t going to let her out of his sight!   They dated, and had lots of fun together. On one of their dates, he took her to the first North Star Hockey game.  They took in a bag of Arbys in and while eating it, discussed how neither of them liked hockey. They left before the second half.  After retiring from the Marines, and one-and-a-half years of wooing, Gene got up the nerve to pop the question again. This time, she said yes, and the couple happily said their “I do’s.” About a month after the wedding, Gene heard an ad on the radio asking people to become foster parents of children who needed safe homes.  He presented this idea to his new bride who was shocked to hear his enthusiasm, knowing that would it would mean she would have to give up her career as a successful real estate broker.  Gloria did love children, and having none of her own, she quickly joined in Gene’s excitement to bring needy children into their home.  “As a newly retired Marine Corps officer, I missed the responsibility of taking care of young men and keeping them on track and welcomed children into my home,” he said. Within a year they welcomed three siblings into their Eden Prairie home, ages six, eight and 10. Gloria felt very strongly about giving these children a ‘real home’ with a mother there to care for them.   So, with a glance back and straight shoulders forward, she walked away from the years of building a career to give herself fully to her new family. “I realized that being a mother meant more to me than my career and I had to be at home for them, so I left it all behind.”  Gene and Gloria adopted the children within the next year.  When they met with the judge for the adoption, he said, “I don’t always have happy cases in front of me.  This is a very happy occasion!”  And, with that, they officially became a family. Gene and Gloria loved their children with all their hearts and did everything they could to give them what they needed and to let them know how special each of them was to them. Adopting the children meant the O’Neill’s were eligible to become foster parents again.  However, Gene accepted a job with a company in New England, (Connecticut), so for the last 6 months before leaving Minnesota, they became shelter parents, which means short term care until a foster home can be found for a child. Gene and Gloria were blessed with two more children, ages four and six.  One of course, eventually became the mother of the baby they would care for later in life… They especially bonded with the four year old girl, “Our family bonded with her and we never lost touch after leaving Minnesota.  That was the beginning of a lasting, loving relationship.” And whenever little Myles comes, whether helping Gloria water flowers or riding with Gene on the lawnmower, he brings them joy beyond measure.   “Gene and I always look forward to his next visit, because he’s become so much a part of our lives,” said Gloria.

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