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Foster mom to 30... and so much more

  Alumni Profile  

When her second child was born with Down syndrome, Merle Irish Biggs '38 did what any other mother would do: she worked with him and learned all she could about ways to help him. After enrolling in a class in the medical school, her professor asked Biggs to take a brain-injured child into her home on a foster basis. That led to another child and another and eventually Biggs and her husband, John, served as foster parents of 30 children while raising five of their own and adopting two of the foster babies.

"Each of the foster children came from a difficult situation," says Biggs, who lives in Denver. "Some had been abused, others were disabled. Many had emotional problems. It was never easy, but we couldn't stand by and watch somebody in need without trying to help."

Foster parenting is just one of Biggs' many accomplishments. She co-founded the Denver Ivy Cancer League and raised funds for cancer research for 25 years. About 10 years ago she became a trainer for New Foundations Non-Violence Center, helping with workshops in schools and prisons. She taught Sunday school and put her music education degree to work as a volunteer cellist in a community orchestra for 47 years, resigning just last year.

Merle Irish Biggs '38 downplays her national service award, saying her work was her reward.

"While I've spent most of my life in excellent health, I'm beginning to realize age 87 is not age 20," she laughs. In 2003, Biggs was awarded the Jefferson Award, a national honor bestowed upon those who provide outstanding community and public service. She asked two of her daughters to attend the Washington, D.C., ceremony in her place.

"I don't like crowds or a lot of fuss and bother," she explains. "Besides, the things I did were things I thought I should do and could do. That was all the award I ever need."

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