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My Pick for Happy Valley Mom of the Year Is One Adventurous Soul

by on May 09, 2020 5:00 AM

Some may think that Mother’s Day is a marketing scheme that was invented by florists or candy makers. But those of us who have watched a loving mom at work can affirm that all of the flowers at the Arboretum and all the candy in Hershey couldn’t repay her dedication.

If you wanted to honor the ultimate “first responder,” that would be a mom.  She’s first with a hug, first with a kiss, first with a clean diaper.

Sue Paterno was the worthy honoree last year as my initial “Happy Valley Mother of the Year.” She raised five offspring (every one of them graduated from Penn State) while thoroughly supporting her husband Joe in his demanding job as Penn State football coach. And she tells the stories of her heroic efforts like they were no big deal. SuePa, you are the best!

This year, I’m honoring a woman who is much less famous but just as deserving as the remarkable Mrs. Paterno. The winner of the Happy Valley Mother of the Year award for 2020 is Kim Sublett, wife of local pastor Stacy Sublett.

Kim is the mother of nine children, three biological and six adopted, who range in years from 24 down to 4. To be honest, I’m not sure which is more amazing — the number of Kim’s kids or the adventurous path that she and Stacy followed in gathering all of them. I’ll let you decide after you’ve read their story… 

MOTHER’S DAY REMINDER

The Subletts were married on June 30, 1990, but they did not have an easy route from there to parenthood. After three years with no bambinos, they got a heartbreaking diagnosis—unexplained infertility.

Says Kim, “I remember one Mother’s Day during that time, we just couldn’t have kids and we kept trying, and that was a rough Mother’s Day. It’s so hard for women who can’t have children.” 

But then the Subletts got a little help from medical technology (a procedure called intrauterine insemination) and their firstborn, Levi, entered the world on Sept. 22, 1995. “When we became parents,” notes Kim, “that was huge. Today, Mother’s Day reminds me that about 27 years ago, we were told we wouldn’t have children. And now we have nine.”

ADVENTUROUS PATH

Two more biological kiddos followed when Lilly was born in August 1998 and Sadie in May 2001. Yes, they also came via IUI, since it seems to be a Sublett tradition that nothing comes simply when adding to the family tree.

Would Kim give birth again? No, that wasn’t going to happen. She had experienced a miscarriage before Sadie’s birth and another after Sadie’s arrival, so it didn’t surprise Stacy when she said, “I can’t go through that again.”  

On the other hand, Kim had always been positive about adoption and had even felt a premonition during her youth that one day she would adopt. Soon the couple began investigating possibilities in China. At first, it seemed that option would require a very long wait, but then the Subletts learned about a list of available children who either had medical conditions or were simply a bit older.

Working through America World Adoption Agency, Stacy and Kim arranged to adopt Annabelle, then nine years old and living in an orphanage in China. (“Annabelle could be the poster child for older kid adoptions,” says Stacy. “She’s been so good.”) And that wonderful connection led to other family additions.


The Subletts relax at the summer home of Stacy’s parents in the Carolinas.  In the back from left are Levi, Sadie, Isaac and Stacy.  In the middle from left are Josie, Annabelle, Lilly, Kim and Zuzu.  In the front are Jase (left) and Charlie.

MALE INTUITION?

For example, on their trip to pick up Annabelle, the Subletts met a Florida couple who were also in China for adoption. A few months later, that couple served as a link to a 13-year old Chinese girl whose adoption in America was not working out. Initially, the Floridians were hoping to adopt the girl, and that’s what they told Stacy and Kim over the phone. But as soon as that phone call ended, Stacy told his wife, “That’s our daughter. We’re supposed to go get her.”  

Amazingly, he was right. The very next day, the Subletts got another call from their friends who said, “This is really weird. We would never presume to tell somebody, ‘Hey, God spoke to us and you’re supposed to do this.’ But we think you’re supposed to adopt this girl.” Says Stacy, “I did the dance of joy in our living room because that was our little girl who we named Josie.” Looking back now, he says the situation was an unusual form of God’s grace. 

“That kind of thing never happens to me,” he says. “Kim is much more intuitive than me. It was weird.”

A REFRIGERATOR PHOTO

Next, a pregnant girl in Virginia, living temporarily with a supportive family, saw a photo on that family’s refrigerator. It showed Stacy and Kim with their five children. Touched by the image of a loving adoptive home, the girl asked her hosts, “Would that family take my baby?”

Of course, that was a question that required thought and prayer for Kim and Stacy. They hadn’t dealt with a baby for a long time (10-year old Sadie was then their youngest child), and they were still helping two former orphans from China to adjust to America and the English language. But the faith-led answer was yes, and the result was sheer delight when Charlie was born on Aug. 4, 2011 and came to the Sublett home a couple days later.   

I remember when we brought Charlie home,” says Kim, “and there were five big kids. We grabbed a cushion from an outdoor chair and put it on the middle of our dining room table and laid Charlie on it.  We all just gathered around the table and stared at him. He was so tiny. It was so heartwarming. All of this was beneficial for our kids who had to take care of babies in the orphanage. They learned to love and value the little people.”

STILL MORE KIDS

Another older Chinese child soon became available, and as you might expect, the Subletts welcomed him into their family. Only two months had passed since Charlie’s arrival, so Kim’s brother and his wife kept the baby while the other five kids joined their parents on a trip to China. (“God provided the money in so many unique ways,” says Kim.) The trip proved unforgettable for everyone—especially Isaac, the newest Sublett.

Orphanage officials brought Isaac to the hotel where the Subletts were staying in Hohhot, capital of China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. There, speaking almost no English at the age of 11 or 12, he met his new parents and new siblings, both Asians and Caucasians. “His eyes welled up,” recalls Kim. “You could tell there was a little fear and a little excitement.”

But the excitement won out over the fear, not a surprise to anyone who is now acquainted with the gregarious young man. Isaac quickly made himself a place within the family even as he adjusted to Western customs.  “He didn’t know what deodorant was,” says Kim. “So he took it in the shower with him and slathered it all over his body that first night. We still laugh about that.”

Having adopted four kids in just 21 months, the Subletts finally “hit the pause button,” as Stacy puts it.  But note that it was a pause, not a stop. After a few years of consolidating their gains, they worked with the Centre County Orphan Care Alliance to adopt Jacob Andrew Sublett (“Jase”) at his birth in 2014 and his half-sister Suzanna (“Zuzu”) at her birth in 2015. (The Subletts had always loved the name Zuzu from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life,” so they chose “Suzanna” to fit that nickname.)

Although the Subletts are not planning to adopt more children, with hearts as big as theirs they might be open to providing foster care. “I don’t think that’s out of the question,” says Stacy, the gathering pastor for Calvary Church’s congregation in the Boalsburg area.


Stacy and Kim Sublett had nine reasons for gratitude on Thanksgiving Day of 2018.

A BIT CRAZY?

Whether talking with Stacy or Kim, I sensed an overflowing joy from their family life. But joyful or not, I wondered how they keep their sanity. So I asked the question that, by now, you’re also asking. How have you handled the challenge of raising all those children?

“We’re a bit crazy, but we love it,” says Kim. “I think the advantages of a large family far outweigh the challenges. When you have a large family, there's so many people to pitch in and help. And we’re all so different. We call ourselves ‘Team Sublett’ and we go back to that analogy of a team where everybody is needed. If I become weary, one of my older kids will be like a tag team in wrestling—they’ll tag me out and jump in with one of the little ones or start cleaning up the kitchen.”

AGE & ENERGY 

Kim’s point about distribution of the work makes sense. But she would also acknowledge that every person has limits, and her two youngest children have reminded her of that. 

“Having little kids in my 40s (she was 46 when Zuzu arrived) is hard work,” says the native of Derry, Pennsylvania. “We've had them from birth, but the biggest challenge is keeping up with these two high energy kids. In my idealism, I thought, ‘These two kids, they're brother and sister, they'll love each other.’ But boy, the way they fight, they are buggers. There is competition, there is jealousy. They give us a run for our money.” 

Kim and Stacy understand that every child—adopted or biological—presents some kind of challenge to parents. Thus, they are careful not to blame the backgrounds of their adopted children. “It would be easy to blame a gene pool or an upbringing for a certain behavior,” says Kim. “But we can’t.” 

As Stacy puts it, “All of their baggage, all of their struggles, all of their wounds become ours as a family.” 

Regardless of the struggles, those who have closely observed Kim will say that she and Team Sublett are winners.  One of those is Lynn Nold, wife of Calvary’s lead pastor, Dan Nold, and a friend of the Subletts for nearly 25 years.  

“I can’t fully describe how she can walk through so many challenges in everyday life,” says Lynn. “Seriously, nine kids!  And she wears so many hats—wife, mom, pastor’s wife, full-time director of Calvary Kid Care.”

Nold thinks the key to Kim’s mothering success is her heart. “She lives with open arms and an open heart and a deep faith in the truth that she is fully loved by God,” says the fellow pastor’s wife. “When you know you are completely loved, it becomes more about that love spilling out of your heart and into the lives of others. As Kim and Stacy continued to adopt, I’ve watched the capacity of their hearts expand.”   

PRINCIPLES FOR SUCCESS

If experience is the best teacher, I figured Kim Sublett would surely have helpful tips for other parents. In response to my request, she offered these thoughts: 

The vital work of play: “There’s a power in play for binding a family together,” says Kim. “We play games and more games. ‘Uno’ is huge for the little kids. We just got a new croquet set yesterday. My 8-year-old (Charlie) would say one of the highlights of COVID-19 for him was when we all played flashlight hide-and-seek at night. And it’s all in. We make everybody play. Whether you want to play or not, by the end of it you’re glad you played.”

Two-dimensional love: Of all the teachings of Jesus, one of the most basic is his Matthew 22 admonition to “love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself.” No wonder that the Subletts often quote that two-in-one statement. “Those are our values,” says Kim, “so when we ask one of them, ‘Hey Charlie,’ or ‘Hey Jase, what are the two most important things?’ they’ll say, ‘Love God and love other people.’ That’s important to us.”

Celebrating wins: “We celebrate a lot,” says Kim. “Celebrating wins is huge, and I think it helps you start some rhythms and traditions in your family. We laugh because The Waffle Shop is definitely a tradition for where we celebrate. The older ones say, ‘Mom, after every dentist appointment, whether we had cavities or not, we would go to The Waffle Shop.’ And we celebrate birthdays and “Gotcha Days” which are the days we got each of our adopted children.”

The importance of shared meals: “The COVID problem has highlighted things we already knew were important,” notes Kim. “COVID showed us we were isolating in our rooms, doing our Zoom calls. The older kids were doing college from home. So we picked a time, 12:30 each day, and everyone in the house has to make an appearance in the kitchen. Whether you’re going to eat lunch or not, you still need to take a break and communicate. We found that just lifted our spirits.”


Three Subletts graduated from State High in 2019. From left are Stacy, Annabelle, Isaac, Sadie and Kim.

NOT A SUPERMOM

It’s obvious that Kim has great insights into the craft of mothering, but she’d be quick to say she’s not “Supermom.” Ironically, one of her struggles over the years has been comparing herself to mothers who seem outwardly superior. “As moms, we do worry,” she notes. “A lot of us are worried about what other moms think of us, especially the moms who look like they’ve got it all together. 

“And we think our children are a reflection of us. But I think we need to take that pressure off ourselves and off others. 

“I would tell all the moms in State College to be true to who God made them to be. I think inside our hearts, we know who we are, but sometimes we're afraid to be that woman, that mom. I think it takes courage to be who you were designed to be. And that's different than the mom who lives across the street.” 

WISHES FOR MOTHER’S DAY?

So what is Kim Sublett hoping to see on Mother’s Day? Perhaps you could guess her answer.

“My favorite thing is to have them all around the table,” says Kim. “That usually happens on a holiday like this, because some of the big kids don't live at home. I love the feeling of everyone being in the kitchen and saying, ‘Here you make a salad’ and ‘Can you get the drinks ready? Just working together and bringing it all together. And then having them sit around the table for dinner.  That warms my heart the most as a mother.”

 



Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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