“It was fun to be the kid,” said Pam Fontaine, one of seven children born to Beulah and Joseph Klementowski. “There was always something to do and someone to do it with. We had a great childhood.”
In addition to her own seven children, Beulah and her husband fostered 63 children starting in the 1950s. She also has 29 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.
Born in Galway in 1920, Beulah married Joseph Klementowski at St. Joseph’s Church in Broadalbin when she was 20. Their first child, Ronald, was born in 1942 right after the couple built a small frame house in Galway, starting what would be a legacy of children and family filling the home with love, laughter and life. Six more children soon followed and when the youngest was three, Beulah took on her first foster child—a neighbor’s infant son.
“A man down the way had a baby and his wife was unable to take care of the baby the right way,” explained Beulah, who is still vivacious and full of energy at 92. “He wanted someone to take care of the baby—he brought him to my door at 11 at night and asked me if I would care for him.”
That first baby, Carl, had been born prematurely and needed extra care. He stayed for 15 months when Beulah was faced with having to give him up—the parents had placed the child up for adoption and a couple had adopted him.
“It was hard,” said Beulah of having to let a child go who had lived with her and her family for over a year.
But, the experience didn’t stop her from taking on more babies—newborns directly from the hospital, then later on, as birth control prevented fewer out-of-wedlock or unwanted births, older children.
“The newborns were the easiest,” chuckled Beulah, a twinkle still sparkling in her eye, her sense of humor and zest for life showing through. “They stay put where you put them.”
Most of the newborns only stayed for three to six months, but others stayed for longer periods of time, even years, as their parents struggled with deciding whether they really wanted to raise a child or put them up for adoption.
There was Billy, who came to the Klementowski household when he was nine months old and was not able to be adopted until he was four. Another, who had a mental disability, came to live with them when he was five and stayed until he was 16.
Then there are the sisters, Annette and Darlene, who became a part of the Klementowski household when they were eight and five years old.
“They are still our family,” said Pam, adding that they even assist in the daily tasks of caring for Beulah so she can remain in the family home.
There is also the child who came to stay with them when she was 15 months old and was adopted at five.
“Her name was Norma Jean Brown,” said daughter-in-law Diana Klemontowski. “We would like to find her—we are still looking for her.”
Norma Jean, Beulah explained, had been with them for such a long time because the mom had died tragically while the baby was in their care and the grandmother did not want to take on a toddler. Eventually, Norma Jean was adopted, and for a few years, the parents, who lived in Westchester County and had possibly two other adopted children, sent regular letters giving updates on her progress in school and life.
Then one day social services contacted Beulah and told them there would be no more contact—the grandmother had decided she wanted the child after all and they had to stop the letters so the child would be protected.
“They had to cut off ties to protect Norma Jean,” said Diana, who became a part of the family a short time before Norma Jean was adopted. “I’ve looked for her on the Internet and Facebook—the couple’s name was Miller—but I haven’t been able to find her.”
Norma Jean would be 48 now.
Beulah can still recall the names and individual personalities of most of the children who lived with her, especially the older ones who often came with emotional baggage. Even so, life was never chaotic in the household.
“Mom and dad knew how to handle kids,” said Pam. “We all knew what was expected of us, even the foster kids, everyone was very involved.”
While many of the children she fostered still keep in contact, Beulah can tell you how most are doing or what happened to them in life even if they didn’t.
“Each [child] was a new excitement,” said Beulah, who also had her own garden and canned all those vegetables, as well as farm animals for milk, cheese and eggs.
Pam said growing up in a small house with that many children—up to a dozen at a time—didn’t seem unusual at all.
“We really didn’t know any different,” said Pam. “The hardest was when they left—we’d go off to school in the morning and knew the baby wouldn’t be there when we got home.”
Pam said that her mom was always cooking, cleaning or doing something for the family.
“She was like the Energizer bunny 20 times,” said Pam, adding that now her mom is confined to a wheelchair, she complains that she misses being able to do all the housework, gardening and cooking.
“I used to bake bread and sell them,” said Beulah, who also made fruitcakes to sell. “I also picked blueberries and sold them for 25 cents a quart.”
Still living in the home she and Joseph built—he died in 2007—Beulah still sends birthday cards to all her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great, great grandchildren, as well as all her nieces, nephews and their children.
“I don’t know how she does it, but she keeps it all in her head,” said Pam, adding that the families still all gather for get-togethers. “We always gathered, every weekend—it was always a party.”