There are thousands of children surrendered for adoption on a regular basis in our country and elsewhere. The reasons are as different as the shapes and sizes of their little noses and toes in every hospital maternity ward. Our cultural attitudes have shifted in many ways. For the most part, the backstory is secondary to how that child is treated and raised once the ink dries on the adoption papers.
Revealing the circumstances varies with the families. In Len Ripley’s case, he’s had an awareness virtually his entire life. His parents explained it to him very early by telling him that most people have to take what they get — we chose you.
Len and I were high school teammates on a close-knit high school basketball team in North Charleston. We’ve stayed in contact through the years but I never knew his story until we shared a cup of coffee one recent morning.
“I never had an interest in my birth father or mother,” Ripley says. Leonard and Mildred Ripley were his parents, and both lived into their 90s. “People used to tell me I looked like my dad. I was proud of that, and never corrected anybody.”
Ripley, now 66, didn’t concern himself much with tracing his roots. He wrestled a little with finding his place in the work force. After a failed early marriage, he bounced around the Upstate in different positions with a textile plant and then a corporate tire company. He returned to the Lowcountry where he worked with the County Sheriff’s office, the County Manager’s office and then half a dozen years as a North Charleston policeman.
While trying to find a job that suited him, he found a wife, Debbie.
“I knew she was special because she agreed to spend our honeymoon at a PGA golf tournament,” he now laughs.
Looking for links
As Len and Debbie started growing their family and attending a Goose Creek church, Len had a confession to make.
“I started having strange stirrings. The former cop felt a calling to preach and teach and pastor.
Debbie initially said, “Wait a second, I didn’t marry a minister.”
With two kids in college, Len was off to Duke Divinity School.
For 22 years he served mostly small Methodist churches, from Folly Beach to McClellanville. It was another experience, though, that led to a different awakening. While suffering a heart attack, Ripley had no family medical history to share with the doctors.
Len started on a mission to learn a little more about his birth mother and father. Through a birth certificate location in the upstate and DNA discovered through an ancestry test, a few cousins surfaced. He then learned of a half-brother and half-sister, and then a little later three more half-sisters were revealed.
A visit was arranged in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Len quickly learned what a charmed and wonderful life he’d enjoyed. He learned he was a product of an affair. His birth mother suffered from schizophrenia and his birth father was a high school coach and an athlete of some renown at a small college. On the birth mother’s side was a history of heart attacks and strokes.
Happy in hindsight
Ripley’s glad he now knows a little bit of where he came from but cautions those who may be too anxious to learn more.
“People need to realize there may be a dark side. Be prepared for what you may find.”
He tried to retire once. He still performs weddings and funerals in the area and just recently accepted a pastoral position at a small Methodist church in Ravenel.
A number of the funeral services he’s asked to conduct are for people who aren’t connected to a local church.
“I’m not there for the dead, though,” he smiles.
Ripley’s certain his dad gave him his work ethic. He’s even more grateful he gave him his name.
He has four children and 10 grandchildren. And guess what. His oldest daughter has adopted two little ones. I’m fairly certain she dropped a little Ripley insight by sharing something she’d heard before.
Most people have to take what they get — we chose you!