Spraytown man father figure to many over the years

Growing up as one of 13 children, Gerald Rutan was used to a full house.

Later on when he married, Rutan and his wife, Darlene, had their only biological child, Lucinda, in 1979.

Between then and 1992, they chose to be foster parents to more than a dozen children.

They wound up adopting their last two foster children, Julie and Lisa.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Over the years, Gerald has been a father figure to many, and he said it’s a good feeling knowing he made an impact on their lives.

“You just have to love kids,” the 70-year-old Spraytown man said of what it takes to be a foster parent.

“You’ve just got to like to have kids, and if you see them doing something wrong, ‘You’re not supposed to be doing that. You don’t need to do that. This is what you need to do’ and show them the right way,” he said. “Hopefully, after you show them, they’ll remember the right way. If they don’t, you did all you can do. I was just kind of raised to help and do what you can do.”

Gerald grew up in Bartholomew County and later had a long career in construction.

After he married Darlene, they moved to Spraytown.

With the first two children they fostered, one was a boy and one was a girl. The boy had been taken away from his parents by Child Protective Services.

“Then (the boy’s mother) got her act together, and he went back to Mommy,” Gerald said. “She moved to Indianapolis, and while I was working up there, I would pick him up on a Friday evening, bring him home down here and we would go to ballgames and stuff on the weekend and spend time with him and I would take him back Sunday.”

They were foster parents for 13 years. They also raised Darlene’s sister’s children, Glenda and Jason.

Gerald said it was up to the court system to determine how long they fostered children.

He said it was their responsibility to provide the children with some stability.

“You can raise a child, and it can come out good or you can raise a kid and it not come out at all,” he said. “It depends on how you show them the road. You send them down the road, and you can tell them how to turn right and left, and you can show them right and left, but it’s their choice when they get down there if they are going to go right or going to go left.”

Julie and Lisa were in foster care when the Rutans decided to go through the process to adopt them. They are biological sisters separated by 16 months.

The adoption process was tough.

“When they would come out to visit, we would take them to the Brownstown welfare office, and they learned what was going on, and it didn’t matter how I went to Brownstown, they would start crying before I got there because they didn’t want to go,” Gerald said of Julie and Lisa.

Sometimes, one of their parents wouldn’t show up to visit with them.

“We had to stay there for the hour they had for a visit, and a lot of times, they wouldn’t even call and say, ‘We’re not going to make it today,'” Gerald said. “The kids would be in there playing and crying and everything.”

Gerald said he never went into the room where they visited, but Darlene did.

“She said the parents would play with the toys, and the kids would be over there by themselves. Mom and Dad would play with the kids’ toys,” he said. “They didn’t have any communication. It was wasted time, but that’s something that was required. You have to do it. You may not like it, but you’ve still got to do it.”

Once the adoption process was completed, they raised Julie and Lisa.

“In my honest opinion, I think we had a lot better life than what we would have,” said Julie Rutan, who is now 30 and lives in Seymour.

“He raised us the old way, not like the new generation. The older generation, that’s getting lost,” said Lisa Schmidt, who is now 29 and also lives in Seymour. “It makes me a stronger person and responsible and do what you’ve got to do.”

Julie said she appreciated Gerald supporting her through elementary school playing youth basketball.

“If he wasn’t there at the game, they recorded it,” she said. “He supported us in what we wanted to do.”

When Julie was 19 and Lisa was 18, they met their biological parents. They also found out they had four brothers and a sister, but they have never met them.

“They’ve all been adopted or in foster care right now,” Julie said.

Gerald said one of the reasons he and Darlene chose to adopt Julie and Lisa is so they could help take care of Lucinda, who has cerebral palsy.

Darlene died June 15, 2006, and a year later, Gerald placed Lucinda in a group home in Seymour.

“When (Julie and Lisa) came up for adoption, we were hoping later on down the road when she’s gone and I’m gone, they would kind of step up to the plate,” he said. “When we’re gone, (Lucinda) is always going to have somebody.”

In August 2008, he married Joyce, and they lived in Brownstown for a couple of years until moving back to Spraytown.

For the past year, they have had three of Joyce’s great-grandchildren — from ages 11 months to 9 years — living with them along with a 14-year-old.

While they have not fostered any children together, Joyce said she knows how Gerald has helped kids over the years.

“I see what he does with the kids daily,” she said. “I see the patience and the love because he didn’t have to take these kids at our age.”

Gerald said it means a lot to him to fill the father figure role for kids.

“When I was growing up as a kid, I never dreamed that I would be in the position I’m in now,” he said. “I feel good about it. If I had to do it over again, I would do it. I think I’ve done good with what I’ve had to work with. I don’t have any regrets about any of it. There were some things I would have changed if I could if I did it again, but hindsight is better than foresight.”

For Father’s Day Sunday, Gerald said the family plans to spend time at a campground in North Vernon that they have frequented for a number of years.

“To me, it’s another day, like Christmas is another day, Thanksgiving,” he said. “Thanksgiving might be my best holiday that I like.”

It’s all about being around family, whether they are blood relatives or not.

“I look forward to it,” he said.