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Fostering an Atmosphere of Love: AG Pastor and Wife Adopt Five Kids

While becoming parents to an infant may seem intimidating to those in their 50s, Mark and Tammy Cronauer hit the reset button and said yes.
Editor’s Note: May is National Foster Care Awareness month. To find out how to get involved in foster care or adoption, contact the AG Foster Care Network.

The call to Mark W. and Tammy K. Cronauer came at the most hectic of times: just as the pastor of Clark AG in Clark, South Dakota, was getting ready for church. When Tammy came to the phone, her hair was still dripping wet from her shower.

On the line was a South Dakota Social Services Department employee; the Cronauers were licensed foster parents. The state agency had three sisters, ages two and younger, and asked, “Are you interested in taking them?”

After talking it over, the couple decided they were. But first they wanted to talk to their daughter, Daytona, whom they had adopted after taking her in as a six-month-old foster child in Wisconsin.

“Daytona was very excited at the prospect,” recalls Tammy, 54, lead teacher at nearby Amazing Grace Daycare. “We didn’t realize it at the time, but the night before she had prayed, ‘God, if there’s any kids who need someone to take care of them, would you send them to us?’”

“That was very memorable to me,” says Mark, 56, a graduate of Trinity Bible College. “There is a tremendous need for foster parents, especially for older children and sibling groups.

“We found out later that we were the last call for these three girls to stay together. If we had said no, they would have started splitting them up.”

The community was very accepting and supportive of the new arrivals. When Mark went to the coffee shop Monday morning, a group of women looked at him with smiles on their faces. He thought, “They already heard.”

“They were excited; the whole community was excited,” says Mark, who has sandwiched pastorates in South Dakota the past two decades around eight years in Wisconsin. “People started dropping off clothes, toys, high chairs and cribs. It was close to Christmas and one of the youth groups from another church raised money and bought presents for the children.”

The pastor says it’s been “amazing” to watch his congregation of 50 love on all their children. Mark expresses gratitude for his kids being able to grow up in a small community, where the elementary school is across the street from the parsonage.

“I’m grateful the congregation has been so loving, accepting and supportive of this ministry,” Tammy adds.

Their foster care ministry began after they married in 1998. Although they wanted children, when that never happened, the couple discussed foster parenting. Tammy had long had the desire, which they acted on in 2010 by taking classes to be licensed by the state of Wisconsin.

Their first call didn’t come for two years; it involved an infant and two older siblings. After nine weeks, they went to live with their grandmother in Chicago.

Two weeks later, an administrator called, saying the couple had done such a great job he wanted to see if they would foster a six-month-old girl. For several years they facilitated visits between Daytona and her parents, since the primary goal of foster parenting is to work toward reunification of the family.

However, social services finally recommended against the parents getting custody. Soon after, Daytona (now 11) became a Cronauer.

In November of 2018, the family expanded by three members. But the growth wasn’t quite over. A few years later at a ministers retreat, Mark had hoped to win a door prize: a set of noise-cancelling headphones, a valuable tool in a noisy household. When he didn’t win, the pastor sensed the Lord saying, “I have another gift for you.”

Soon after, Tammy texted her husband about social services asking if they would take on another infant—the half-brother of the three sisters whom they had adopted. Accepting another child in their mid-50s gave them pause, but they decided the little boy needed to be a part of their family.

“We thought, ‘Do we hit the re-set button?’” Mark recalls. “It was then that the Lord reminded me of what He said about having another gift for me. The Lord gave us Azaiah as a blessing. He’s fun-loving, laughs, is outgoing and brings us a lot of joy. All these kids have brought joy to us and our church.”

Member Barb Latunski says the congregation’s welcoming stance to the Cronauer children is the same kind of acceptance that drew her to Christ and led to her baptism in 2019.

The Chicago-area native, who sometimes watches the kids if the parents have other business, says the love Mark and Tammy have for their children is obvious.

“They kept it so their children are able to speak regularly with their birth parents,” says Latunski, 69, a part-time van driver and substitute librarian. “I think some foster children do feel disconnected, especially when they are adopted.”

The pastor says there is a basic reason other believers should consider getting involved in fostering, even if it’s just babysitting, taking food to foster families, or providing transportation when needed.

“Scripture does say true religion is taking care of widows and orphans,” Mark says. “There’s a tremendous importance for Christian families to get involved and live that out. Foster care is a great way to do that.”

Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.