A WELCOMING HOME
- Mardi Ford
- The Observer
It was the first really cold day in November. A slight skiff of white frosted the ground of High Valley. Though the sun was shining and the sky clear and blue, conversation hung in the air in little puffs of frosty breath.
Eight of the nine members of the Mudd family had obligingly mounted horses or four-wheelers to "work cattle" for the photographer. The last of the season's steers and heifers were due to be shipped the next day. Photo ops of the Mudd family working together on the ranch were disappearing along with the autumn weather.
"You should have been here last summer while we had the garden. All of the kids work in the garden," says Karen Mudd.
Every year, the Mudd family plants, weeds, waters and harvests the bounty from a 1,600-square-foot family garden.
Parents Terry and Karen and their eldest, 21-year-old Jeremy, pick a spot in front of the enormous hay stack, while 19-year-old Kariann helps situate the five younger kids scrambling for a seat up high on the hay bales. Later, Karen confided the entire family had actually been hesitant about being interviewed for the local newspaper.
However, the Mudd family had hit high on the radar last October when the Union County Cattlemen's Association chose Terry as Cattleman of the Year. True to the standard of those in his profession, Terry typically had less than a dozen words of thanks, preferring instead to turn the spotlight on his wife and children in thanking the association for an award he was honored to accept.
Luckily, award presenters Jim and Joni Cant had already painted an intriguing picture of Terry and the Mudd family ranch.
"Not only does this family meet the criteria for this award, but they raise a really nice calf. I never have trouble marketing and selling their calves," said Joni Cant.
Jim Cant recounted the family's dedication to helping their neighbors and how they work together.
"It truly is a family operation," he said.
Terry and Karen have eight children, seven living at home. The oldest, Able Burnett, 36, is a permanent foster son. He was a troubled youth when the Mudds were asked to take him. Their time together was brief, but it was enough. Able is now happily married, working in law enforcement and lives in Irrigon.
The other seven children all live at home Â— for now.
Before calling Terry up to the podium to accept the award that night, Jim Cant unwittingly revealed Terry's nature and the point to the Mudds' story in a single, simple sentence:
"Terry Mudd told me he praises God daily for the opportunity to raise his family on a ranch," he said.
In 1976, Terry and Karen met at church. He was a young man looking to settle down; she was still a teenager.
"Oh, I noticed her," Terry recalls. "But I didn't think it was right for a 23-year-old man to be looking at a high school girl."
When he considered the rest of the young women in the church, he realized his interest had already been captured by Karen. He decided to wait for her to grow up a little.
About Terry, Karen says, "I knew right off he was meant for me. God laid it on my heart."
They got married on June 2, 1978.
Before they married, Karen told Terry she had known her life's calling since she was 10-years-old.
"I always wanted to adopt children. I just love babies. And there are so many that need to be brought home," she says.
Including their two biological children, the Mudds have brought eight children home to the ranch in High Valley. Though Jeremy works hard on the ranch every day, his chosen career lies beyond the ranch. Jeremy is studying international justice and plans to be lawyer.
Instead of being disappointed about that, Terry embraces his choice for the future. He is proud of his son.
"If it wasn't for Jeremy, we wouldn't have this ranch now. He saved it," says Terry.
Six years ago, the Mudd family's Suburban was hit head-on as they headed for church one Sunday morning. Terry was severely hurt. After several surgeries, he still lives with constant pain in both knees and a sternum that didn't heal quite right. Although Jeremy was just 16, with both his parents in the hospital he stepped up to the plate and took charge. It was a long haul, but relying on God and each other, the ordeal has made the Mudd family stronger and only deepened their faith.
Last July, Jeremy, 21, and Kariann, 19, served on a Christian mission in Peru. Kariann's calling is to work in Third World country orphanages. She and Jeremy are both attending college online, working on the ranch and helping with their five little brothers and sisters.
When Jeremy was about 11 and Kariann 9, the Mudds held a family meeting Â— the first of many Â— and decided to adopt siblings into the family. Jesse, now 12 , and Sandra, now 10, were born to the same single mother, were developmentally delayed and in foster care.
Karen saw their short bios and pictures in a publication put out by The Special Needs Adoption Coalition of The Boys and Girls Aid Society in Portland.
Ed Lund, since retired, was the adoption specialist at the time working for the state in Eastern Oregon. During his career, he placed thousands of children and met hundreds of families. The Mudd family is one he remembers.
"I was really impressed with Terry and Karen. For one thing, they showed a lot of determination and stick-to-itiveness," he says.
Lund was also impressed by the Mudds' extensive support system from extended families and their church, and that Karen home-schools her children and would be with them all day.
"Kids like these really need those close connections with parents to establish bonds," he explains.
Lund also considered the qualities of the home life and the security of an unchanging environment on a ranch.
"The Mudds were about as real as you can get. There was no pretense. The emphasis was not on material things, but on family. And that ranch Â— all the work and the interaction with the animals. There are so many ways a kid can succeed in an environment like that," Lund says.
So Lund easily sold the state on the Mudd family, and Jesse and Sandra came to High Valley, the first two of five half-siblings.
"The minute Jesse first saw us, he ran up to Terry and cried out, Â‘That's my daddy,' like he'd been waiting for him. And when we brought him home he ran to the living room, patted the couch and said, Â‘That's my couch.' In his room, he patted his bed and said, Â‘That's my bed.' Of course he was so little he doesn't remember any of that, but I always wondered if God had given him dreams about us before we met," says Karen, who had prayed for God to prepare the children's heart to receive them as parents.
Once home, Jesse rarely left Terry's side and quickly earned the nickname, Daddy's Hind Pocket. Karen says he still prefers to be outside with Terry doing chores around the ranch.
"He's not into books and has to work hard at school. He's not interested. But he loves the ranch work. And he can fix anything," Karen says.
Terry nods in agreement, and adds, "He's already a great mechanic. He just has that logical mind and understands how things work."
At 10, Sandra likes to cook and is a great help in the kitchen, Karen says. What she loves most, though, is riding horses. When she first came home, at 14 months old, she couldn't sit up or do any of the things babies her age should do, and doctors said she may never walk. Today Sandra is healthy and strong and also works very hard around the ranch.
"Usually, the girls work in the house with me and the boys work outside. But if the horses come out, they all want to be outside," Karen says with a laugh.
A few years after Jesse and Sandra were adopted, the state notified the Mudds that another half-sibling had been born to the same mother and also placed in foster care.
"The state likes to keep siblings together, if they can," Karen explains.
For the next few years, the birth mother continued to have more babies. One was left in the custody of the birth father's family. The other three found a home in High Valley with half-siblings Jesse and Sandra.
Seven-year-old Kevin bonded with Jeremy right away and follows him everywhere on the ranch Â— his own version of Hind Pocket. Although he likes horses, Kevin prefers machines, choosing the four-wheeler or a bike to ride.
Victoria, 6, also loves the horses and all the kitties, which seem to be extremely tame, clean and cuddly for barn cats.
"I think it has something to do with all the attention they get," says Karen.
Janessa, 4, was born three months early and tested positive for cocaine. At 1 pound 5 ounces, doctors held little hope for her. One doctor recommended pulling the plug on the machines that were keeping her alive.
"The doctors said she would probably have cerebral palsy Â— that she would be blind and deaf," Karen says, holding her close.
Janessa is developmentally about a year behind where she should be, but she walks, talks, sees and hears. She also brings a great deal of joy to her family.
"We know we can't save every child, but we can help a few," Karen says, trying to explain in words all that is in her heart.
But more than that, both Karen and Terry say what is most important lies not in the here and now, but in eternity.
"We want them to have a chance to go to heaven. We want them to know Jesus," Terry says.
Karen nods in agreement. After all, she has been planning for this family since God whispered in her ear when she was 10 years old.