A Special Gift

After her mother’s passing, Korean adoptee Joanie Fugate found a special portrait in her mother’s belongings and was inspired to donate it to a place very important to her family—Holt International.

“Growing up, my mom was a portrait artist. When we went through her things, we could have plastered the walls with her portraits. Family, friends, everyone. She was a very talented artist,” says Joanie Fugate, of her mother, Joan Alice Fugate.

But this portrait is different. Skillfully drawn with charcoal, full of gentle shadows and soft brushstrokes, it depicts the man who inspired Joan to adopt: Harry Holt.

Joan’s portrait and the picture that inspired it: Martha Sue Surdam, one of the earliest children placed through the Holt adoption program, thanking Harry Holt with a kiss.

In the mid-1900s, international adoption was a relatively new concept. Joan first learned about Harry and Bertha’s mission to find families for children through international adoption in the newspaper. Deeply moved by the stories of children in need, Joan started giving to Holt.

“She was always involved with charities and ministries and mission work. Knowing what I know of Grandma, if someone came into her church and asked, she would have donated all that she could give,” says Heidi Jackson, Joan’s granddaughter.

She was always involved with charities and ministries and mission work. Knowing what I know of Grandma, if someone came into her church and asked, she would have donated all that she could give.

After becoming a donor, Joan began to see stories in the Holt newsletter and in the papers about children who needed permanent, loving homes. It was then that she decided to adopt.

And so, in 1959, 14-month-old Lee Gail arrived in Oregon and became Joanie Fugate.

“I had pneumonia, dysentery, all these conditions … My mother says she was always in the doctor’s office with me,” says Joanie. Despite these challenges, Joanie says her mother remained patient and nurturing. With few resources for adoptive parents at the time, Joan worked hard to be a strong advocate for her daughter in their community.

After Joan’s passing in 2021, Joanie and Heidi were tasked with sifting through all of her belongings, deciding what to keep. They found dozens of charcoal drawings, but when they stumbled upon this one of Harry Holt, they knew it shouldn’t be discarded. Joanie and Heidi felt like Joan would have wanted the portrait at the Holt office, back at the beginning of their family’s adoption story.

Three generations: Joanie, Heidi and Heidi’s daughter, Saphrya, delivering the portrait to the Holt International office.

“She always had this hanging in her house. She cherished the Holts for bringing her daughter,” says Heidi.

Today, Harry’s portrait remains in the Holt office, alongside photos and keepsakes of other significant moments in Holt’s history. Joan and Heidi’s connection with Holt likely won’t end with this special donation. Heidi and Joan hope to visit the office — and the portrait — again. And maybe, one day, they’ll go on a trip to Korea with Heidi’s daughter, Saphyra, so that she can continue to learn about her family and heritage.

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