By Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross
The fourth annual Together for Life Banquet, hosted by Guiding Star Duluth, brought in a national speaker, gave Hibbing's Gail Checco of Blessed Sacrament its annual pro-life award and, for good measure, dropped news on a major new pro-life initiative in the region.
The annual Together for Life event has served as a fundraiser for a variety of pro-life organizations in the region, in keeping with Guiding Star's mission of helping various groups with different focuses to work together in support of a Culture of Life.
Supporters of Guiding Star Duluth listen as speaker Dan Kulp shares his experiences growing up in a family that adopted special-needs children and how he and his wife adopted three special-needs children, two from China and one from Ukraine. (Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross)
Dan Kulp, lead singer of the rock group The Dig Project and a comedian, writer, actor, radio host and youth pastor, told the story of how he and his wife adopted three special-needs children, two from China and one from Ukraine, and about his own family growing up, where he was the eighth of nine children and four of his brothers and sisters have Down syndrome, three of them adopted.
He said his first child, Simon, was believed to be the first child with Down syndrome adopted from China. He had been abandoned as an infant in the woods in the middle of winter, probably not because of the Down syndrome but because of other problems like a club foot. His life was saved a second time in the first weeks of life when a British doctor told the family that found Simon about an imperforate anus.
When they went to adopt him, they were the subject of stares because of his differences in a place where people with Down syndrome are often sent to an institution to be forgotten. The experience brought back memories.
"I can remember going out with my family to dinner, with my brothers and sisters, and everybody in the restaurant in our own country would be staring at us, because we looked different," Kulp said.
He said his mother would tell them to just ignore it, but she sometimes took a more direct approach. Once she invited a bunch of kids who had been picking on Kulp's brother Matthew to their house.
"She basically told those kids he is such a blessing to us, we want him to be a blessing to you, too," Kulp said.
It worked. When Matthew was hit by a car, the kids organized a fundraiser and sought donations to help.
"That same group of kids that used to pick on my brother, they ended up making money to help with his hospital bills, and it was all because my mom would rather make allies instead of enemies," he said.
His late father had a different personality. He didn't like attention. When Kulp's brother was born with Down syndrome, family and friends advised the parents to put him in an institution and forget him.
"My parents didn't like it that much, so they went out and adopted three more kids with Down sydrome, because he was such a blessing to the family," Kulp said.
The family even became the subject of a two-page National Enquirer spread.
He said adopting Simon allowed him to walk in his father's footsteps. "He endured all that for the love of his family," Kulp said. "The guy who wanted no attention was willing to endure that because he loved his kids, he loved his children."
Kulp and his wife felt called to adopt a second child from China a few months after getting home. Danielle was listed as having Down syndrome, but it turned out to be a false diagnosis. Instead she had the more rare Alif Sydrome, and Kulp said it's a blessing the diagnosis was wrong, because had the authorities known they may not have been able to adopt her at all.
About a year later, Kulp said his wife found another child, from Ukraine, with spina bifida. "Right about now I'm praying our computer would develop a virus," Kulp joked, saying he was concerned by the lack of time, money, energy and space it would take to adopt another child with medical issues.
But they adopted Shea, and shortly after committing to it they learned they were expecting a baby themselves. The two new arrivals came a few weeks apart.
"We gave her up for adoption," Kulp joked of Emily, now 3.
He said his wife got a heart for adoption from her own work in China as a physical therapist, where she had been one of the first Westerners in her province to encounter the "dying rooms," places where abandoned babies were taken if there was no room in the orphanage, where there was minimal care and children who died were taken out in garbage bags.
She made openness to adopting at least one such child a condition of marriage.
Kulp said his wife is his "superhero" for encouraging many people to adopt, and he extended the honor to his audience, too.
"I'm here tonight because you are my superheroes. I honestly mean that with all my heart," he said. "... I look up to you, and I thank you for your fight in the cause of life. I thank you for giving so generously."
The evening's program also included the annual Father Crossman Culture of Life Award, given in recognition of someone who has done long-term pro-life work. This year, the award went to Gail Checco, of Blessed Sacrament in Hibbing, who was taken completely by surprise at the announcement.
Checco, who after some of her own life decisions got involved in post-abortion ministries like Project Rachel and Rachel's Vineyard, has brought those ministries to northern Minnesota and shown compassion, generosity and love, said emcee Niki Corbin.
After she made her way to the podium through a gauntlet of well-wishers offering hugs, Checco said, "As [Corbin] read, there's been a lot in my past, and I can only hope that God continues to use me in the Culture of Life," she said.
The award is named for a deceased Duluth priest who was a stalwart of the pro-life movement. Past honorees are Rosie Agnew and Jim Tuttle, both of Duluth.
The event closed with tantalizing news announced via video message by founder Leah Jacobson. Guiding Star Duluth's next project is to build a maternity house in Duluth geared to mothers in need and seeking life for an unborn child.