By David V. Miller
For the Star-Gazette
Many of us have been touched by the gift of raising children; some of us by those with special needs. Most of us, however would not make the latter our first choice, let alone, go to great lengths to see it through.
Bob Rittenhouse, former resident of Rushville, did just that when he and his wife, Patricia, adopted Nori. It is a story worthy of a book and that is just what it has become.
Bob left the Rushville area in 1962 following his graduation from Illinois College in Jacksonville. He speaks of bygone days of playing ball in high school and the intense rivalry between his alma mater and Beardstown. One can hear the fondness he has for these memories as he speaks in the pleasant, even tone of a man who has lived a full life. That same voice fills with pride as he describes his family: his wife, Patricia, his daughters Nancy, Julie, and, of course, Nori.
Nori, a Honduran orphan suffering from deafness at the age of seven was introduced to Patricia Rittenhouse while the latter was on a mission trip to that country. Honduras is the poorest country in Central America. It is also considered the most dangerous. There are serious gang problems but as Bob puts it (he goes there with his wife on yearly mission trips), "There are safe parts and unsafe parts." "You don't want to make eye contact (with the gang members)," he said. It was from this set of surroundings that Nori would soon come into his life.
Nori's adoption by the Rittenhouse's would be facilitated by a man named Carlos, the son of the former Honduran President. It was through a conversation with Carlos that Patricia slipped in a comment that she and Bob were interested in "Adopting a deaf child." This took Bob by surprise because he had just become a grandfather and was not, as he put it, "aware that I wanted to adopt." He said he figured that Patricia had gotten the idea that he desired this through some long-forgotten promise he may have made when courting her in hopes that it might make her more willing to marry him. In fact, he didn't even get the news that he was adopting from Patricia directly. He got the word from friends who were talking about it as though it was just common knowledge. "Guess what?" they were saying, "Bob and Pat are adopting a deaf child".
Not to be a gloomer, Bob agreed to return to Tegucigulpa (The Honduran capitol) and meet Nori. It was a decision that he would come to see as providence. When he met the boisterous 7 year old, the deal was done. He had fallen in love and was ready to be a father again; but the Rittenhouse's would come to find out that it was not going to be easy bringing Nori into their family. There was a lot of red tape and more than a little bit of subterfuge involved in getting her to the United States. Through the help of missionaries, they were able to get Nori out of the country and she flew into Little Rock Air Port. She exited the plane with only a Barbie suit case. Inside was everything she had in the world. As important as the few items in that little case must have been to the small child just entering an alien land, something far more precious to her was soon to become apparent, for, upon spotting Bob, she dropped that suit case and raced into the arms of her new father and her new life, a life that I will let you learn about for yourselves when you read Bob's book, "Nori, The Story of a Deaf Honduran Orphan," available now.
Nori is now 24 years old and starting a new chapter in her life. She is set to graduate soon from Gallaudet University, the "leading University in the nation in liberal eduation and career development for deaf and hard of hearing students." And how did Bob end up feeling about his decision to ultimately become a father to a little girl with a hearing deficit from another culture? "It's the best decision my wife ever forced me into," he said.
Here's to good decisions and to family. This story has both.