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Unconditional love for all her 31 kids

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POSTED September 29, 2014 11:23 a.m.



What's right with the world?

Barbara Prater.

Barbara and her husband Jim opened their home and hearts to 27 foster children over the course of 50 years.

Actually, that's wrong. Were Barbara around — she passed away last Wednesday at age 83 — she would have firmly corrected me stressing they are her "children" — period. They were her children just like Terry, Kevin, Pamela and Debby are her children. She made it a point never to differentiate between her children whether they were foster or parental.

It was a point not lost on 12-year-old Fred White.

Fred literally came into Barbara's embrace in 1978.

It was a hug that told Fred he was home and that he was loved.

Fred was homeless and living in a Volkswagen bus when his birth mother was arrested for a DUI and his plight came to the attention of Children's Protection Services.

That led to an institutionalized stint at Mary Graham Hall before a placement with a foster family that was less than ideal.

But then Fred's life changed. That's when he came home to Barbara and Jim.

"My life was completely saved and transformed because of Barbara," White noted on Saturday. "Her firm grip on what it took to raise children let me to a better life and helped me become a better man and father."

That meant daily chores and responsibilities.

"When I stumbled she picked me up and dusted off my knee and told me to go after it again," Fred recalled.

It's the same philosophy that drove Jim who passed away in December 1987.

Jim taught Fred how to weld and care of livestock and run the 20-acre ranch northeast of Highway 99 and Lathrop Road that was home.

Jim and Barbara instilled a strong work ethic in their children.

"Jim would always remind you that it is a tough world out there and that it would chew you up and spit you out if you weren't prepared for it," Fred noted,

Encouraged by Barbara and Jim, Fred excelled at East Union High where he collected numerous honors including FFA green-hand farmer before graduating in 1984. Both Barbara and Jim and Barbara were involved extensively with East Union FFA and the Ag Boosters.

Barbara and Jim adopted Fred.

Years later when Fred married, Barbara was adamant that not only should Fred invite his maternal mother but that his natural mother's name appear on the wedding invitation and not hers.

It was just another example Barbra's extraordinary grace.

Daughter Laurie Burns noted, "My mother was the most loving and caring person. She never knew a stranger when it came to helping children and age didn't matter."

Barbara's heart of gold knew no boundaries. She redefined unconditional love.

It wasn't easy raising 31 kids and doing everything possible to know they were loved and would have the character and the drive to succeed in life.

It was hard work. And Barbara relished it.

Much of her life she spent preparing meals for 10 to 20 people on a daily basis.

It meant grocery shopping trips in Manteca were driven by the need to find the best bargains to fill her Dodge Aires station wagon to the brim to feed her family each week.

She relished dinner time. It was when everyone would gather together after the day’s chores and school work to share the day.

Oftentimes routine family dinners meant dining required using two rooms. Jim at one point made things easier by building tables out of four by eight-foot plywood that would seat 10 apiece.

Barbara's grace wasn't just for her children.

If she thought you needed something that she had she wouldn't hesitate to give it to you.

Barbara leaves behind a brother Lawrence Hefner, and paternal children Terry and Debby as Kevin and Pamela have already passed on, 27 other children, plus numerous grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

A memorial service takes place Wednesday, Oct 1, at 1 p.m. at the FESM Hall in the 200 block of North Main Street in Manteca with a potluck style luncheon to follow.

It goes without saying that Barbara will be there in the strength she gave 27 men and women who — in their darkest moments as vulnerable children — found themselves in a home built with unconditional love and nailed together with old-fashioned values, discipline, and the instilling of a strong work ethic.

All is not lost with this world.

Thanks to men and women like Jim and Barbara Prater who saw life as a gift worth sharing with children who were cast aside by others.


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