Opening the Door to a Lasting Gift

Carole and Alan Bendtsen

Carole and Alan Bendtsen, parents to three sons, served as a foster family to 11 children through the foster care program at Children's.

Most parents with three young children would say that their hearts—and their home—are already full. But nearly 50 years ago, Carole and Alan Bendtsen decided they could find a little more room for kids who needed them. Today, they are Guardian Society members committed to supporting the foster care program at Children's Wisconsin.

"Being a foster family meant the world to us," Carole said. "That's why we made it part of our heritage."

In 1969, Carole and Alan learned that a group called the Committee of Responsibility would bring war-injured children from Vietnam to the U.S. to receive free medical care. These kids needed foster homes in participating cities, including Madison.

The Bendtsens welcomed 16-year-old Tho. Children's Service Society of Wisconsin (CSSW)—which became part of the Community Services program at Children's in 2004—supported them through this bittersweet experience. Tho struggled with the transition from the Madison hospital to their home as he underwent multiple surgeries.

After Tho returned to Vietnam, Carole and Alan became foster parents to a series of babies—ten in total—born and awaiting adoption in the U.S. Even their three young sons took part in caring for them.

"That was a joyous time," Carole said.

There were challenges, too—from the inevitable sleepless nights to the pain of parting after several months. But looking back, Carole said, "I learned a lot about what I wanted my life to mean. And we deepened as a family. The experience shaped our own sons as they became fantastic parents and community members."

Decades passed, but the experience "was never out of the background of my mind and my life," Carole said. She was inspired to serve on the CSSW advisory board and to return to school to become a nurse. Eventually, she and Alan included the Children's foster care program in Madison in their estate plan to recognize the outstanding support they received years ago—and to address the ever-present need for good foster families.

"The need is all around us," Carole said. "But each one of us has something we can do."