William Dillard of Keller knows he’s a lucky man.
For most of his life, he has been blessed with good fortune, tinged with a bit of serendipity. But early on, that wasn’t the case. His future was precarious and his life could easily have gone in a different direction.
Dillard is like millions of others worldwide orphaned during childhood, whose lives hang in the balance between adoption into happy, loving homes and being bounced between foster homes and orphanages, struggling to find stability.
Dillard was born Wilhelm Gerome Von Reis in Germany to a Jewish couple during the Holocaust. An only child, he lived with his parents in a small town that was demolished by the Nazis who had discovered that someone in the resistance movement lived there.
Dillard says he and his father had gone out of town when the tragedy occurred. His mother, who stayed behind, perished.
As the Holocaust and World War II persisted, Dillard recalls hiding in haylofts and wagons to elude the Nazis. His memories are sketchy, he later learned, because the human mind has a way of blocking out details of horrific events.
After years of struggling to survive, Dillard and his father, Wilhelm Henrich Reis, made it to Ellis Island in New York in 1946 to begin a new life.
“My father fell ill and passed away on Ellis Island,” he says.
With no one to claim him, Dillard went into the child welfare system and was placed in several foster homes, including a placement with a German Jewish family, but no one was able to adopt him.
But Margaret Barbee, who was head of social services in New York, had a plan for him. She arranged for him to meet a sorority sister from the University of Chicago who was married to a wealthy oilman and living in Tulsa.
William R. and Katherine Dillard were in their 50s and never had children. Barbee took him by train to Tulsa, where he met the Dillards, who were open to adoption but didn’t want an infant, he recalls.
Soon enough, the couple agreed to adopt him. His adopted mother had spent time in Germany and spoke German. His adoptive father’s name, William Reese Dillard, was closely akin to his own. He chose to change his name to William Reese Dillard Jr.
For several years early on, Dillard tried in vain to find information about this birth parents but discovered many public records were destroyed during the war. And although his adoptive parents supported his search and the connection with his Jewish identity, eventually he “ended up being mostly Presbyterian,” he says, the faith of his adoptive father.
Dillard, 80, recalls a life of privilege. He attended the University of Washington, joined the ROTC and earned a degree in math. He went back to Germany to earn a master’s degree in engineering.
Eventually, he and his wife, Betty, bought a home in Keller when she took a job in the area. He had two sons from a previous marriage and has two grandchildren.
Now an avid collector of model trains of all types and sizes, Dillard says his passion for trains began with his train trip from New York to Tulsa. Shortly after settling in Tulsa, his father found a toy train in the satchel he brought from Germany and helped him start a collection.
“I’ve been collecting ever since,” he says.
Looking back on his life, he realizes how different it could have been.
“If I hadn’t been for Margaret, they would have sent me back,” Dillard says. “She wanted to develop a German foster program so it worked out for me.”
Changes in laws
Like Dillard, tens of thousands of children have come to live in the U.S. through international adoption. This type of adoption was rare during most of the 20th century but became extremely popular during the 1980s, according to Mark Melson, chief operating officer and executive vice president for the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, which has placed thousands of foreign-born babies with American families.
The peak of international adoptions occurred in 2004, when Americans adopted 22,000 children from 17 different countries. But since 2008, the pendulum has shifted and more countries, with the support from the humanitarian aid organization UNICEF, are trying to place babies within their own countries rather than adopt them out to other countries.
“Now what we are seeing are mostly children over age 5 and those with special needs,” Melson says. “These are children who are difficult to place.”
In fiscal year 2016, only about 5,300 foreign children were brought to the U.S. for adoption, including 66 arranged by Gladney from the countries of China, Colombia and Taiwan.
The appeal of international adoption during the peak years coincided with changes in American adoption laws that permitted open adoptions with birthparents having more rights to involvement in the lives of their children, Melson says.
Children adopted from other countries typically arrived without any previous attachments. There is still great demand for foreign-born infants but the supply isn’t there, Melson says.
A better life
Tracy Edes of Southlake struggled with infertility and refused to give up on her dream of having her own children. Her husband was ready to consider adopting but Edes refused to give up until one of her doctors told her “this isn’t going to happen.”
After awhile, she finally realized, “I could be a mom and love a child — any child.”
Edes and her husband, Dave, decided on a foreign adoption because of the open adoption laws in the U.S.
“I knew I couldn’t deal with someone showing up six months after we adopted wanting to take their child back,” she says.
The couple, who were living in the Boston area at the time, considered adopting from Russia, Guatemala, Korea and China. They decided on China because Dave Edes preferred a girl and China offered the best prospects for that.
The couple adopted Emma, now 15, in 2003, and Hannah, now 13, in 2005. Both were born in China.
“The process was long and arduous but it was so worth it,” Edes says. “I could have done it 10 more times because it is really, really wonderful being a mom.”
When the couple moved to Texas in 2009, the girls initially attended Keller schools since the family lives in the Keller district. When the Carroll ISD opened its enrollment to all residents of Southlake, the Edes switched their daughters to that school district.
Both girls are excellent students and involved in many extracurricular activities.
Edes says people frequently compliment her on kindness and humanitarian spirit for adopting foreign children and giving them a better life.
“For me, adoption was a selfish move,” Edes says. “I wanted to be a mom and have a family. I didn’t look at it like I was saving them but that were saving me. I am the really lucky one.”