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Aspen coach Ketchum, wife adopt Haitian orphans

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Steve Ketchum finally has his starting five.

The Aspen High boys basketball coach and his wife, Mardi, who together have three adopted sons, soon will welcome two more to the fold – Haitian orphans displaced after Jan. 12’s earthquake.

“I look at this as a new, exciting adventure, something that will enrich our lives,” Ketchum said Thursday. “People ask us why we’d do this, how we can afford this … all those arguments make sense. But, at the same time, if you just listened to that you’d never take a chance, never step out of your comfort zone, never act on your instincts.

“This is something we really needed to do together.”

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The brothers, believed to be 5 and 6 years old (official records have been lost), were living in Port-Au-Prince’s Brebis de Saint-Michel de L’Attalaye (BRESMA) orphanage, operated by two sisters from Pennsylvania.

The damage to the orphanage was so extensive that the children were living in a courtyard for more than a week, according to The New York Times. With food supplies dwindling and conditions growing more dire by the day, BRESMA’s owners Jamie and Alison McMutrie made pleas for help.

They were answered.

The brothers were among a group of 53 orphans airlifted out of the Haitian capital after visa restrictions were loosened under pressure from various U.S. officials, according to The New York Times.

When they landed at Pittsburgh International Airport on Jan. 19, all but a handful of the children had adoptive families in place.

While the Ketchums did not inquire, their adoption agency in Denver has ties to the Kentucky organization that works closely with the McMutries.

Their telephone rang Jan. 26.

“We still don’t know why they called us, but they decided to give us the first shot,” Ketchum said. “It absolutely blew us away … It was like God was actually sending these kids to us.”

It seems Mardi Ketchum’s premonition the day before was spot on.

“I was driving home Monday on a back road after work and I had this flash of us and the three kids. There were two little black kids running at us,” she recalled. “I started crying. Twenty-four hours later, we got a phone call … I was kind of shocked, but not totally caught off guard.

“I heard [Brad Pitt] talking about adopting kids and he said, ‘You know, the kids sometimes choose you.’ That’s kind of the way this happened … I had my mind made up [right away].”

The same could be said of the time the couple brought home C.J. and Cory – now 9 1/2 and 8 1/2 – nearly six years ago, Mardi Ketchum said.

“We were nervous, but by that second night alone with them, we had a little coming home party … and our first family movie,” she said. “It’s like it was always meant to be.”

Less than two years ago, the couple adopted now 4 1/2-year-old Dre’, who, like his older brothers, was living in foster care in the Denver area.

“The feeling of pure joy and the true meaning of family we get from our adopted sons is amazing,” Mardi Ketchum said. “It is truly beyond words the gift they have given us by coming into our lives.”

The trio can often be found at Aspen High games and practices, climbing on the bleachers or watching movies and plastering drawings on the walls of their dad’s office, which more closely resembles a grade-school classroom.

They soon will have company.

“C.J. has his sheets ready to teach them colors, shapes and numbers. Little Dre’ will show them how to shoot baskets and Cory will show them how to act like a tiger,” said Mardi Ketchum, who has two grown sons from a previous marriage. “They are thrilled. They can’t wait to get their new brothers home.”

The arrival date is still up in the air. The brothers remain in Pittsburgh while State Department and other processing continues, Mardi Ketchum said. She expected to receive word Friday, but inclement weather back east has pushed things back.

Preparations at the Ketchum household in Basalt have already begun. Plans for a second car are in the works. Mardi Ketchum is studying her cheat sheet of common Haitian Creole phrases. A stockpile of boys clothing was taken out of storage, and bedroom assignments are being mapped out.

When they heard of the impending additions, Georgina Levey’s fifth-grade class at Aspen Middle School hatched plans for a fundraiser to purchase bunk beds.

“I think we’re as ready as we can be,” Mardi Ketchum said. “Our families are behind us 100 percent. I’m sure some think we’re crazy.”

“Pretty soon my hair will stand on end and I won’t need gel,” Steve Ketchum added. “Adding two more boys to the mix, you can imagine what a mad house it will be like. We better be [ready].

“I remember asking Mardi, ‘Are you 100 percent sure we should be doing this?’ Her response was, ‘Absolutely.’ I agree with her and trust her that this is the right thing to do. I’m at peace with it … It may never be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.”

Will this be the Ketchum’s last adoption?

“My wife promised me that if we’d did this, she wouldn’t ask for any more. Famous last words,” the coach joked. “I have my starting five, but what about the bench?”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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