After raising 14 children, Buffalo Grove couple prepares for life as empty nesters

The nest may never be really empty for Gary and Judy Berman, but the Buffalo Grove couple this summer is watching the last child of their flock head out on her own.

After all, the Bermans have raised 14 children, including eight adopted children, within the village for the past 55 years.

"It's not for everybody," Judy Berman, 76, said. "It's been a very interesting life. I would start all over again, if I wasn't so old."

Their youngest child, Cassie Berman, who they officially adopted in 1999, heads to Illinois State University later this fall after graduating from Buffalo Grove High School in June. She also was one of 53 people, along with Long Grove resident Leyda Garcia, who recently received the DCFS Scholarship, which the Department of Children and Family Services awards to college-bound students, covering tuition and other academic fees.

Decades before, Judy Berman had her first child, Melissa, in 1961, and she would go on to have four other children under a previous marriage.

By 1976, she married Gary Berman, now 66 years old and a fellow school bus driver in Arlington Heights at the time. The two had their first child together, Joshua, who brought the Berman nest to six children.

The two thought their family was complete until a regular on Judy Berman's bus route, while she drove with Pace in the late 1980s, approached her with a request. The pregnant, single mother, who Judy Berman befriended, asked her to adopt her child, Judy Berman recalled.

After talking it over with her husband, Judy Berman agreed to take on the child and began the process to legally adopt a child for the first time.

They had their seventh child for four months, Judy Berman said, until the birth mother decided to keep her baby.

"It was really traumatic," she said. "Without it, we wouldn't have done what we've done, and I wouldn't have these beautiful children."

After the experience, Judy Berman started volunteering on Friday nights at a DCFS emergency shelter in Chicago and started learning about the babies' different needs, she said. The couple started inquiring about becoming foster parents but faced a challenge.

The policy at the time was to try and match children with foster parents of the same race, Judy Berman said. The majority of the children at the Chicago shelter were black while the Bermans both were white, she said.

But when the shelter started running out of beds, the policy eased up, and the Bermans started taking in children from the shelter, Judy Berman said. Eight adoptions followed.

The Buffalo Grove couple is known within DCFS, said Debra Dyer-Webster, a DCFS guardian administrator. A couple, who have adopted eight children, have to endure many changes and find compromises, she said.

"That is phenomenal," Dyer-Webster said of the Bermans' efforts. "They are definitely the exception, not the norm."

The two adopted a child for the last time roughly 18 years ago, when DCFS workers approached them about a newborn girl who was in need of a home. Their eighth adopted child, Cassie Berman, entered a crowded, mix racial household.

She said she understands her upbringing was unlike most of her classmates.

"I don't really know the difference since I wasn't raised anywhere else, but it's awesome," Cassie Berman said.

Kim Zinman has watched with amazement this family dynamic play out over the years. As the principal of Kilmer Elementary in Buffalo Grove from 1994 until retirement in 2013, Zinman had a Berman in classrooms almost every year of her career.

"They're a wonderful family," Zinman said.

Another aspect of a large family is a perpetually expanding house.

Through several rounds of additions and renovations, the Berman home now holds nine bedrooms. A few adult children paying their way through college still occupy a few of the rooms, which also are occupied by one of the couple's 11 grandchildren when they're visiting.

But Cassie Berman said she does manage to experience a few quiet moments.

"Not everyone's here at the same time," she said. "Sometimes, no one's here."

As she prepares to send her last child away to college, Judy Berman is preparing for a lighter nest at home in Buffalo Grove.

"A lot of my friends say, 'Aren't you glad to be done?' And I say, 'No, this has been my life,'" Judy Berman said. "It's sad to have all this over with."

Twitter @RonnieAtPioneer

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