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For the Least of These: The Mendenhalls

The Mendenhall family: Janet, Doug, five children (Jake, Hart, Brooks, Cade and Hailey Grace), three daughters-in-law or daughters-in-law-to-be, and one grandson.
The Mendenhall family: Janet, Doug, five children (Jake, Hart, Brooks, Cade and Hailey Grace), three daughters-in-law or daughters-in-law-to-be, and one grandson.
A feature series from ACU Today
A feature series from ACU Today
We continue our series about Abilene Christian University alumni who have followed their hearts to adopt, sharing the story of the Mendenhalls, whose life took a curve when they were least expecting it.
Dr. Doug Mendenhall (’82) is journalist in residence and an instructor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at ACU. His wife, Janet (Dampier ’86) is a neighborhood coordinator for an Abilene non-profit called Connecting Caring Communities. They have five children: Jake, 24; Hart, 22; Brooks, 20; Cade, 17; and Hailey Grace, 11.
Here’s how a chance meeting in a driveway brought Hailey Grace into their family.

A Chance Encounter
Back when we were still a childless young couple and had time to talk to each other, we decided to adopt. Friends who were doing this across racial lines were a great example, and we knew we wanted to follow in their steps.
Years went by, and three boys were born to us. We had less and less time to talk, but did not drop the dream of adoption.
In Alabama in 1997, we finally went through all of the steps to place our names on the list to adopt a biracial infant through a Christian agency. It was a short list.
Our fourth son joined us that fall when he was 2 days old, coming home to big brothers who were 3, 5 and 7 but knew something important had just happened in their lives.

Janet Mendenhall and Hailey Grace
Janet Mendenhall and Hailey Grace
We knew then that our family was complete. We had not specified a gender to the adoption agency, but with four boys now and the email address “boyzville,” the puzzle pieces seemed to have fallen into place.
The next five years were a blur of ballgames, birthdays, baths and bedtime stories, with four growing boys in perpetual motion.
We had neither the energy nor the bedrooms for any more children.
A few days before Christmas 2002, though, deep in the season of Nativity, all six of our lives slowed down suddenly.
Our next-door neighbors’ daughter was an employee now of the very agency through which we’d adopted our son. She came home to visit her parents, and was in their driveway when Janet pulled into ours one morning.
“How’s that new job going, Jennifer?” Janet called across the driveways.
The reply was a bittersweet story about the birth of a beautiful biracial girl. Her adoption had fallen through, so Jennifer had just driven her to her foster mother.
“But somebody’s going to adopt her, right?” Janet asked.
No, actually.
“But surely now there’s a waiting list, right?” Janet asked.
No. The agency had no prospective parents for a baby of this color.
“I think we’re supposed to get her,” Janet told Jennifer. As soon as she made this pronouncement, Janet could see some big holes in it. “I don’t even know if they’d let us. We don’t have the money, and they might think we’re too old.”
They talked more, and Jennifer assured her that from the agency’s viewpoint, all of the holes could be filled. The baby girl could easily become our daughter.
But how could Janet really know if God was guiding her pronouncement?
I know, she thought; I’ll go inside and tell Doug, and if he laughs at me, I’ll know it wasn’t meant to be.
So she did. I heard the simple story.
The solution seemed obvious to me, too. So I didn’t laugh.
One month after her birth, this beautiful girl came home to four big brothers.
“Finally, someone to be in MY club,” her youngest brother said proudly.
She has changed Boyzville in many wonderful ways, but that’s a longer story for another time.
I don’t know why, but we still have that old email address. Maybe it’s a gentle reminder that we don’t really know the plan for our lives.

In the weeks to come, we will introduce you to other alumni who help make a real difference in the world – and enrich their own families – by adopting and fostering children. If you have an adoption story or photos you would like to share with us, please email Robin Saylor,
You can follow new stories in this series on the ACU Facebook page.
See previous posts in this series: