LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. — In his 30 years of highlighting children seeking adoption, Bill Williams had never featured such a group: 10 East Tennessee siblings in foster care who were anxious to stay together.
The WBIR anchor’s story aired in 1994, and sure enough it worked. A Campbell County couple saw Williams’ “Monday’s Child” piece on TV and decided this was their destiny.
In the 27 years since Williams, now 10News anchor emeritus, featured the family, he’s never forgotten all those brothers and sisters. And they've never forgotten him.
"At the time I thought surely no one will be interested in adopting 10 kids," Williams recalled.
This month, they reunited.
Bill Williams reunites with biggest family to appear on "Monday's Child" - 10 kids!
"You have no idea how much that helped," Pascah Brandenburg, one of the youngest in the family, said as they met Nov. 9 at a Campbell County campground. "We didn't want to be separated."
Today, all 10 -- the oldest, Maranatha; Deborah; Jerihlyn; Paul; twins Bobby and Sandy; Terra; Hannah; Pascah; and Maverick, the baby -- are doing fine. They range in age from 43 to 30.
"They’ve all done really well in school and they have all got good jobs and good husbands, and I’m just blessed all over," adoptive mother Debbie Brandenburg told Williams this month.
"Most of them have children of their own," said Maranatha, now Maranatha Nelson, a mom with six kids.
"They're all doing great," Pascah said of her siblings. "They've all done really, really good for themselves."
Back in the early 1990s, however, things were not good.
The children had had a rough home life. They'd moved a lot. They'd never been to public schools, and they hadn't received proper health care.
When Williams featured them in 1994, they'd been in foster care a year.
Most important for them, as they spoke to the journalist that sunny May day at a playground, was that they stay together. Then-16-year-old Maranatha said she couldn't bear to think of them living apart.
What they needed, Williams observed then, was someone with a "big heart and a big house" to hold everybody.
"They’re going have to have a big heart if they’re going to love all of us," Maranatha jokingly told Williams.
DON'T SPLIT THEM UP
And lo and behold, they found someone ready to give them a permanent home.
Joe and Debbie Brandenburg already were parents in 1994 -- to two adult sons.
The Campbell County couple saw Williams' story, and that was it. Williams noted some 200 people sought to adopt the kids in one form or another.
Debbie Brandenburg said she remembers going to a downtown Knoxville location as part of the adoption process and seeing the children along with prospective parents.
"They were picking over them," she recalled. "We told our social worker these kids couldn’t be divided."
The adoption came down to the Brandenburgs and another couple, Debbie Brandenburg said. But the husband of that couple suffered a health setback, raising questions about whether he wanted to go through with it.
Just like that, Joe and Debbie's household got a lot bigger.
"God was in the plan to give 'em to us," she said.
Williams, who retired in December 2000, still keeps tabs on many of the children -- now adults -- he profiled back in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Most were individual children; sometimes there'd be two or three siblings.
More than a thousand of the children he introduced on "Monday's Child" on WBIR found permanent homes and loving families.
The Brandenburgs of Campbell County always stood out. Williams got to thinking about how they were doing earlier this year.
Maverick, Pascah and Maranatha greeted him warmly this month when they spent a late morning together at a church campground outside LaFollette.
All three were eager to tell him the events in their life -- Maverick's new marriage, Pascah's growing family, Maranatha's joy in home-schooling her six, some of whom tagged along with dad Daniel Nelson.
"I love it, I really do. It’s a lot of work but I love it," said Maranatha.
More of the Brandenburg kids wanted to join in the gathering but they live outside the area. They're spread out across the South, in fact.
"We're everywhere," Pascah declared.
That's not hard to do when you're a family of 10.
Williams also was pleased and surprised when Debbie Brandenburg showed up at the reunion. Joe died in September 2011 at age 62.
Today, son Paul lives with Debbie.
She gets great joy out of being a grandmother -- to 21 grandbabies.
"I can spoil ‘em and send ‘em home!" she told Williams.
The Brandenburgs relished sharing their recollections of the day Williams and a TV cameraman sat down with them. And when it was time to go, they gathered for group photos, hugs and declarations of love.
They wished each other well in life. Until the next time they meet.