Wildes connect Juneau parents to Thai children

Posted: Friday, August 16, 2002

After their children were raised and away from home, Henry Wilde and his wife Anita thought their days of starting a family were over - but they had only just begun.

Beginning in 1985 they would help start five more families, pairing orphans in Thailand with couples in Juneau.

The Wildes have lived off and on for more than three decades in Bangkok, where Henry, 75, has worked as a physician at the U.S. Embassy and now teaches medicine at Chulalongkorn University.

After the Wildes' children returned to the United States in the early 1980s to attend college, Anita, now 76, began volunteering at an orphanage at the university in Bangkok. A short time later friends of theirs in Juneau, Skip and Lynn Wallen, told the Wildes about their dream of starting a family.

"I knew there were many children in the world that needed a home, and I was discussing this with Henry and Anita, and they said, 'You should try Thailand,' " Lynn said.

After more than a year of paperwork, anxious waiting and guidance from the Wildes, the Wallens were united with their son Tor.

But this was just the beginning for the Wildes. Over the next decade they would help other families in Juneau find a child to call their own.

"They tend to minimize what they've accomplished, but all of the families they've helped are grateful," Lynn said. "They are kind of godparents to a number of Thai children who are now living in the United States."

George and Debbie Reifenstein of Juneau echoed this sentiment.

"I see Anita as being a grandmother of all these kids," George said. "The whole thing might not have happened without her."

In 1988 the Reifensteins adopted an 8-year-old boy named Peter from the same orphanage as Tor's. Prior to coming to Alaska the two had been friends in Thailand.

Debbie said the couple, who had two children, had been contemplating adopting for several years and in 1985 took a trip to Nepal and Thailand. After returning to Alaska the couple found out about the orphanage from the Wallens.

"We already had two children and instead of bringing more into the world we decided to adopt," Debbie said.

George said the most difficult part of the adoption process was keeping the paperwork moving, which is where the Wildes came in. George said Anita kept the process going and helped the family overcome the language barrier and other cultural obstacles.

"Anita and Henry are always so gracious about showing families around Bangkok," George said. "They have such interesting and close ties within that culture that you see far more than you'd see any other way."

Even with the adopted children now grown and living away from home, Debbie said, the Wildes still get together with the families at least once each summer for a traditional Thai feast.

Having a sense of curiosity and respect for other cultures has caused more people to travel and see the world within the last 50 years, Anita said. It has made foreign adoption more realistic for many people, she said.

"I think travel is the most important factor here," Anita said. "Before you ever go somewhere the curiosity has to be raised, and I think that goes back to these orphans. You get acquainted with the people and the culture, and you can't help but be impressed by their way of life."

Since the mid-1980s, when the Wildes first helped the Wallens, Anita said the paperwork and red tape involved in foreign adoption has become more streamlined. She said it still takes at least 12 months in most cases.

This was the case for the most recent couple that came to the Wildes - Pamela Wilde and Tom Scott, Anita and Henry's daughter and son-in-law.

Tom and Pamela spent a year and a half trying to conceive a child with help from fertility drugs but had no luck.

"If you don't try, there is always going to be the 'what if,' " Pamela said. "But many couples pursue this process for years and spend huge amounts of money on it."

In 1999 they took the Wildes' advice and started the process of adopting a child from the Bangkok orphanage. More than a year later, with the help of Anita and Henry, the couple was paired with a 15-month-old girl named Lia.

"We're just thrilled about being parents," Pamela said. "I'm really happy with the way things worked out because if I had conceived a biological child, I wouldn't have Lia."

Pamela said people considering adopting a child from a country that is ethnically different from their own should consider the importance of understanding that country's culture and beliefs.

"One of our jobs is to help her stay in touch with her culture," Pamela said.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com .



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