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June 15, 2003

Lapel man spends lifetime as a loving father

From: Anderson Herald Bulletin, IN - Jun 15, 2003


Staff Reporter

Those who know him say Lapel's Randy Fowler is a pretty special dad.

In 1980, Randy adopted his step-son, Chris, and 20 years later, he adopted Chris's son, 5-year-old Andrew, who was born deaf.

"They don't come much better than Randy," said Toby Fincher, Randy's next door neighbor. "He's already raised one child, and now he's raising another, and that kid's got a lot of energy. You're talking about a 50-year-old guy, too."

Randy and his wife, Melissa, married in 1978, and almost immediately he filled the role of father to Chris, Melissa's only son.

"Chris was 4 years old when I came onto the scene," Randy said. "I took him on as my own."

Randy and Melissa became grandparents when Chris and his girlfriend, Holly Morris, gave birth to Andrew, but Chris and Holly soon separated, leaving Holly with custody and Randy and Melissa with no contact with their grandson. They saw Andrew for the first time during a paternity hearing they attended with Chris when Andrew was 9 months old.

"Once we saw him, we fell in love with him," Randy said.

So Andrew began staying with Randy and Melissa on the weekends, but visits soon increased in frequency. They noticed Andrew didn't respond to sound, so shortly after his first birthday, they took him to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis, where doctors determined he lacked hearing in both ears.

"We discovered that Andrew was profoundly deaf and not being taken care of," Melissa said.

Within months, they obtained temporary custody. Randy and Melissa adopted him on Dec. 18, 2002.

"I have to admit, some of it was out of sheer need," Randy said. "He had to have some place to go. And I couldn't be happier he's here."

Randy's actions are no surprise to those who know him.

"He always does the right thing, and he knows what the right thing is, and he passes that on to his son," said Frank Rodebaugh, one of Randy's best friends. "He has just a caliber of character that absolutely prohibits him from doing anything other than what he did."

Randy tends to downplay his good deeds, Melissa said.

"He's very a humble type of person," she said. "He's not a braggart."

Both Randy and Melissa learned basic American Sign Language and enrolled him in the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis, to which Randy often drove Andrew, Melissa said.

"We believe real miracles happened," Melissa said. "He started responding to sound."

Because Andrew's hearing improved, Randy and Melissa transferred him to St. Joseph's Institute, a private school for the hearing impaired that focuses on improving hearing and speech.

Lapel schools agreed to pay the yearly $16,000 tuition, but not before a battle, the couple said.

"Randy has fought so hard for Andrew to get the education he needs," Melissa said.

Andrew's parents said they hope to enroll him in the first grade at Lapel next year.

"We want him to have as normal a life as any kid can who wears hearing aids," Randy said. "It's the same thing anyone else wants for their kids."

Randy will be 63 when Andrew graduates from high school, and he knows his golden years won't be the same.

"It's kind of changed the scheme of things," said Randy, a traveling salesman who delayed retirement to support Andrew. "Some of our friends ask 'How do you pull it off?' because it takes an enormous amount of energy."

Sometimes this means not being able to go out to dinner, or spending time with friends.

"He says, 'If Andrew's not welcome to go, then we're not going,'" Melissa said.

But it's not a problem, Randy said.

"It all goes with the territory," he said. "If we live long enough, we're going to see it through to the end."

Having Andrew around will be good for Randy, said Pastor Jim Lyon of North Anderson Church of God, where the Fowlers are members.

"It'll keep him young," Lyon said. "I think people who are engaged in relationships with children stay young."

Randy truly understands what matters most in life, Lyon added.

"He's trading that for something much more precious, and that's that little boy's life and future," he said. "Randy understands he'll be blessed and refreshed for that sacrifice."

Randy said he enjoys spending time with Andrew at the park, on the computer, and at the store, where Andrew loves to play the video games. Last month, the family went on a Disney Cruise.

"Daddy spoils him rotten," Melissa said.

But it doesn't come without its rewards.

At Randy's 50th birthday party last September, Andrew sang "Happy Birthday" to his father.

"I was beaming with joy," Randy said.

Randy's friends remember his reaction.

"He was very proud, and as I recall, his eyes got a little misty over that," Rodebaugh said.

"He was touched to say the least, as we all were," Fincher said. "Like I said, this child has come a long way."

Fincher isn't a dad, but said if he ever is, he'd want to be like Randy.

"Just the other day in the driveway, Randy was sounding out words with him," he said. "He really tries to provide all of the necessary things that go with raising a child."

"We tried for years and years to have our own, but it just didn't happen," Melissa said. "[Andrew]'s our whole life."

What's the best part about being a father for Randy?

"The rewards of the effort that follow, especially with this little guy," Randy said.

"How about when he looks at you with those love eyes and says, 'I love you daddy'?" Melissa asked.

"That's one of the rewards," he replied.


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