Religion feature: Family adopts ninth child

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Patricia Gartner answers a question for the newest addition to the family, 10-year-old Alexis Victorie, whom the family adopted in Russia 13 days ago.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis couple returned from Russia the day after Christmas with their ninth adopted child.

Patricia and Duane Gartner began adopting in 2002 when they realized they weren’t able to conceive children naturally.

The newest addition to their family is 10-year-old Alexis Victorie from Russia.

The family’s relationship with Alexis began when the couple visited a Russian orphanage in 2008 to meet Katie Aunna, who they adopted.

Patricia said the two girls were friends in the orphanage. When the couple were visiting with Katie Aunna in a play room, Alexis followed them. Alexis laid her head on Patricia’s shoulder and, speaking in Russian, asked “Are you going to be my mama too?” Then, “I’m going to keep your smell in my heart forever.”

Patricia said the girl touched her heart.

“We prayed and thought about it for a year and a half. We already have a lot of children,” Patricia said. “I realized God wanted us to do this thing regardless of logic.”

Patricia told her husband that evening she had an epiphany during prayer and she had something to tell him.

“I told her I had something to tell her today, too. I had called the adoption agency and told them we wanted Alexis the week before,” Duane said.

When the couple returned to the orphanage in December 2009, Alexis had one thing to say.

“Mama, what took you so long?” she said.

Patricia said their large family grew from a promise the couple made when they were married 37 years ago.

“We made a commitment before God that we would have as many kids as he would give us,” she laughed.

The children range in age from 4 to 32. Of the 10 children, 16-year-old Casey is the couple’s only biological child. He was conceived by in vitro fertilization.

The family lives in a 5,100 square foot home with six bedrooms, six baths, walk-in pantry, walk-in coat closet and a living room that transforms into a classroom where Patricia homeschools eight of her children and her 13-year-old grandchild, Patricia Renay.

“We wanted the children to have a Catholic education,” Patricia said. “We don’t have a Catholic school in Clovis. I had doubts about being here instead of working. But I looked at what they would receive and I knew that I should actually be here. They will have a better future morally and academically both.”

Patricia said she believes the family has finished growing.

“I’m pretty sure we’re done,” she said, smiling.

Duane said his family makes everything interesting.

“There is never a dull moment,” he said. “There are eight personalities in here and we just deal with it.”

Duane said his children prefer the outdoors and spend their summers in the pool. The couple said they chose to adopt internationally because orphans in other countries aren’t as healthy and get less care.

“When you go to a country and see a child sleeping in the streets or a 15-year-old girl offering prostitution in a train station,” Patricia said, “you know there are children that are in desperate need.”

Patricia said Alexis is adapting well to her new environment. She communicates in Russian and some of the family know a few words of the language.

Fast facts

• Kisty Gartner, 32 years old, adopted from the US in 1977

• Weldon Gartner, 28 years old, adopted from the US in 1981

• Casey Jay Gartner, 16 years old, born in 1993 via in vitro fertilization

• Alexis Victorie Gartner, 10 years old, adopted from Russia in 2009

• Karissa Gartner and Christian Michael Gartner, twin 9-year-olds, adopted from Ukraine in 2002

• Katie Aunna Gartner, 8 years old, adopted from Russia in 2008

• Annie Kate Gartner, 6 years old, adopted from Siberia in 2005

• Mary Beth Gartner, 5 years old, adopted from Russia in 2006

• John Gartner, 4 years old, adopted from Serbia in 2007