53 years of marriage and 100 foster women in Cincinnati

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SHUT DOWN

Ann and Al Hill met at Hughes High School. Fifty-three years, two biological and 100 foster daughters later, they somehow made room for everyone. (Photo: Meg Vogel / The Enquirer)

You don’t remember the names.

How could they Ann and Al Hill cared for about 100 girls, mostly teenagers, in nearly three decades. What they remember, and in some cases never forget, are the streets the girls moved on after they left.

Because they visited her.

Her daughters had gone to college and their Kennedy Heights home felt empty. It wasn’t a big deal for the hills. Hearing them tell it wasn’t more difficult bringing strangers into their home and caring for them – like they were their own children – than a trip to the grocery store.

This is what makes the hills remarkable: they don’t think they did anything special.

Al and his wife Ann have sponsored 100 girls in their lifetime. (Photo: Meg Vogel / The Enquirer)

Al sits near her front porch soaking up the sunshine on one of Cincinnati’s first big spring days. On the roof there is a sign that reads: “Don’t forget to entertain strangers.”

Not many people on her street are strangers to Al, but he waves at them anyway. When his wife steps outside, Al places his chair in the shade on the porch. At 79 he has problems walking. Ann is 78 years old. They still nursed until last year.

The two sit next to each other and hold hands to take a picture. The sticks are between her legs. You have been married for 53 years.

Ann never really smiles even though her daughter tells her to. It’s been a tough year. In August, their 46-year-old daughter Rhonda died after being diagnosed with cancer. Ann wears a necklace with her picture on it.

Ann Hill is holding a picture of her youngest daughter, Rhonda, which she wears around her neck. Rhonda died in August. (Photo: Meg Vogel / The Enquirer)

Al most of the time now and most days, Al talks, and occasionally bends over to his wife to check his memory.

“Mm-hmm,” she usually says.

Ann doesn’t speak very loudly and sometimes it is hard to hear her. Still, everyone knows that she is in charge.

As a foster parent, she was strict. Your home had rules. Al remembers getting her girls to brush their teeth again if they didn’t get it right the first time. Yes, she was strict, but the girls felt she was someone they could always call. And sometimes that was all they needed.

“We were a team,” says Ann. “That’s how we did it.”

Ann and Al began promoting teenage girls in 1993. They were foster parents of 100 girls. “We made our homes for everyone,” said Al. (Photo: Meg Vogel / The Enquirer)

Ann and Al were born in Georgia and both moved to Cincinnati. They met their sophomore at Hughes High School. Al had 16 sisters but did not grow up with them. Ann was raised by her aunt.

At school, Ann said Al was a nuisance. Al said Ann was smart.

When Al was drafted into the military, Ann wrote to him. Perhaps more importantly, when he was serving in Vietnam, she sent him baked goods. Five decades later, he’s almost salivating, describing her pound cake. She was the only person in the world who could bake better than his grandmother, he said.

For Al, a bus driver and manager for 37 years, it was often so easy to look after. He and his wife were able to provide beds and home-cooked meals for young girls who needed them.

“Do you know what you are learning?” Al says. “There are so many people who have nowhere to go.”

When asked how the couple benefited from being cared for, Ann tells a story about a girl whose brother pushed her out of a window to save her during a fire. Ann did not know for a long time that the brother had died.

When the girl finally told her Ann found a photo of him, framed it, and put it next to her bed.

The point of the story wasn’t so much what Ann was getting out of their relationship, but rather to illustrate that she could help in a small way. Because the truth is that all of their girls had lost something. And for people who have nothing, sometimes the little things can feel the biggest.

Ann never really answered the question of how she benefited from the care. Maybe she doesn’t know. Perhaps time has tarnished the bad memories. Maybe it really was that effortless.

Ann and her husband Al have lived in Kennedy Heights for 50 years. (Photo: Meg Vogel / The Enquirer)

But the slippers on Ann’s feet tell a different story. They tell a story about how two people can make a difference even if they don’t want to admit it. They tell a story of 53 years of love, teamwork and parenting.

“Off Duty” are the words that are embroidered on their slippers.

Maybe it seems easier now because Ann and Al are both retired – from work and care. Because while this story is about the hills, it’s also about the girls. Even those who ran away or stole from them. The hills couldn’t save everyone, but some of their foster girls still visit them for Thanksgiving dinner.

Some of them are still calling.

And that’s enough for Ann.

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