CROSBY — There are a lot of people who could call Peggy Lorenson “mom.” Lorenson, a resident of Crosby, has been a foster parent for more than 30 years.
Lorenson isn’t exactly sure how many children have lived in her home over the last three decades. “All I can say is hundreds,” Lorenson said. Her family estimates about 500 or 600. Of the hundreds that passed through Lorenson’s home, one little girl became a permanent fixture in the family.
Abby Geotz, now 32, was adopted by Lorenson and her late husband, Charles Geotz, when she was 18 months old. Abby, now a wife and mother of three, is in the process of becoming a licensed foster parent, following the path of her mother and if all goes as planned will have her 4-year-old biological brother placed in their home within the next few weeks.
“Honestly there have been so many twists and turns (our story) could fill a book,” Geotz said.
Peggy and Charles spent 20 years moving around the country while Charles served in the U.S. Navy. They eventually settled in Oak Harbor, Wash., and began the process to become licensed foster parents. “We had to wait until our oldest child was old enough,” Lorenson said. “But we really wanted to adopt.”
After serving as foster parents for a couple of years, the Geotz family received 4-month-old Abby after she was removed from her biological mother’s care.
After having Abby in their home for more than a year, the Geotz’s were finally allowed to adopt her. “We knew within a month of getting her we wanted to adopt her,” Lorenson said. “You weren’t allowed to adopt foster children back then.”
When Abby was 2, the Geotz family moved back to the Brainerd area. “This was home to me,” said Lorenson, who grew up in Crosby.
Abby Geotz said she always knew she was adopted and appreciated how her parents handled the subject. “It’s just a word,” Geotz said. “I don’t even remember when they told me I was adopted.”
Growing up in a family with six siblings, plus the constant shifting of foster children, brought frequent change to the Geotz family, but it felt normal to Abby. “It was just how I grew up,” she said. “It was harder when I was a teenager and we got kids from my school who I didn’t normally socialize with and suddenly I’m eating dinner with them every night.”
Geotz recalled one occasion when her parents received a family of eight siblings, plus additional foster children in their home all at the same time. “It was a zoo,” Lorenson said.
Geotz’s growing up experience may be part of the reason she and her husband, Michael Schmitt, have decided to become foster parents themselves.
Well, becoming foster parents is only part of the story.
When she was 14, Abby’s adoptive father, Charles, died, stirring in her a desire to know where she came from. “I still had this dream that I had another dad out there that I could meet someday,” she said. “I’ve been searching for my biological family since I was 19.”
After years of searching, Geotz found that her biological father had died, but she connected with his family in the spring of 2009 and flew out to Seattle to meet them. She has since stayed in contact with his children and remains close to one of his daughters.
Lorenson said she recalled Geotz’s birth father’s response to Abby being placed in foster care and eventually giving up his parental rights so she could be adopted. “He thought it was best for her— that she have two parents,” Lorenson said.
Geotz continued the search for her biological mother and the Friday before Labor Day 2010 finally made contact. Her birth mom wasn’t in Washington, like Geotz thought — she was in Grand Forks, N.D., and had agreed to meet Geotz the next day. Geotz said she jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve been looking for her for 13 years and she’s willing to meet me,” she said. “I’m not going to miss this chance.”
Geotz and her husband, Mike, traveled to North Dakota to meet her biological mother for the first time. Her adoptive mother, Peggy Lorenson, said she was supportive but still protective. “I would want to know who my parents were,” she said. “But you just have this feeling — she’s mine.”
Upon meeting her biological mother, Geotz learned about the decision made to give her up for adoption and that she also had five younger half-siblings, including one she had the opportunity to meet — her 4-year old brother Cody.
Geotz said she has no regrets about her decision to make contact with her biological family. “I just wanted her to know who I am and that I completely respect her decision,” she said. “It would have been harder if I was younger, but I felt like I was prepared.”
After the initial meeting Geotz said she didn’t hear from her birth mom again. After several failed attempts she finally made contact with a family member who reported that the woman had moved to Montana, leaving 4-year-old Cody in foster care.
That’s when it clicked. Geotz and her husband decided they would try to get legal custody of Cody.
Abby’s husband, Mike Schmitt, said that the initial conversation about adopting Cody came during the car ride home following the visit in Grand Forks. “We knew it was a real possibility that we could get Cody, so we started to put a plan into place,” Schmitt said.
Because Cody’s mother is a resident of North Dakota, the process required an interstate compact and for Geotz and Schmitt to become licensed as foster parents. “It’s been a long process,” Geotz said.
Cody remained in foster care in Grand Forks through mid-December while the two states and counties worked out the compact to have Cody moved to Crow Wing County. Geotz and Schmitt are still in the process of becoming Cody’s foster parents, but Cody now lives in an area home with a loving longtime foster parent — Abby’s mom, Peggy Lorenson.
“I’m his forever Grandma,” Lorenson said. “He knows he’s staying.”
Since beginning the process to become foster parents and eventually be able to adopt Cody, Geotz said she has been in contact with her biological mother. “She fully supports us adopting him,” Geotz said.
Geotz and Schmitt, who have three children of their own, are excited at the prospect of Cody becoming part of their family. They are still working on the family dynamics since Cody will technically be the uncle to Geotz-Schmitt’s children, but will also be their brother. “It doesn’t really matter,” Geotz said. “He’s family. That’s the important part.”
“Forever Grandma” Peggy said she, too, is thrilled to have Cody, who turned 5 on Feb. 19, in their lives and said she would have helped to make sure he was adopted. “If they hadn’t been able to I would have,” Lorenson said. “He’s part of the family because she is.”
SARAH NELSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5879.