WESTLAKE, Ohio (WJW) – Raising a big family is all Joyce Zehnder ever wanted.

She and her late husband David were married for 48 wonderful years, but they couldn’t have children of their own, so they decided to adopt.

“Somebody puts a baby in my arms, he’s automatically mine,” Joyce said. “I don’t care if it’s somebody else’s baby, it’s mine now.” 

After going back and forth between Catholic and Lutheran adoptive agencies and the county, the Zehnder’s adopted a total of five children: David, Penny, Candice (Candy), Luther and Mark. Most of which have special needs.

“Because it shouldn’t make any difference,” she said emotionally. “All kids really need is to be held and touched and mostly held.”

The Zehnder’s also fostered four more children through the years. Joyce said adopting was one of the most meaningful experiences of her life.

Their daughter Candy Cookson said she feels so lucky to have been chosen by such a loving family.

“She raised me, she loved me, she cared for me,” Cookson said. “She’s always been there. I always like to life my mom up and put her on a pedestal. She’s very special.”

Now retired at 80, Joyce is a sparkling personality and painter at Brookdale Gardens in Westlake.

“We’ll bring in art supplies and she’ll teach the residents a painting technique,” Executive Director Rebecca Lichtenberg said. “It’s really fun to see all the different creations the residents make with her as her leader.”

Joyce has created hundreds of paintings, dozens of which have been sold, and part the proceeds are donated to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

“Every week I put one out, and I keep the cost of what it cost me to paint it and I give the rest to Parkinson’s, because we’ve lost a few people to Parkinson’s,” Joyce said.

As another Mother’s Day comes around, Joyce is looking forward to spending time with her kids and hopes you will do the same.

“It’s not about gifts, it’s being with them, and talking to them as much as you can,” she said. “Just love them, that’s all they really need. It’s not about the money, it’s not the big houses, it’s just to love them and to know they’re loved, and they can depend on you. No matter what happens they can just call you up.”

Zehnder’s art is typically sold at an annual gallery in September at Brookdale Gardens. There is also a small rotating stock for sale at the retirement community year-round. If interested in a painting reach out to Brookdale Gardens at 440-892-9777.