JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In a spread of pictures on a kitchen table, Kimberly Johnson recalled the happy times inside Rose and Donald Deal’s Lake City home.
Kimberly said she was troubled at 14 years old, and life with her biological parents wasn’t a good one. Then, she was placed in the Deal home as a foster child, and at first she wasn’t sure what to make of it.
"So the first impression was like 'oh no,'" Johnson said with a laugh, "but then right away they bring you in and fill you up with all this good stuff."
She says Rose and Donald showed caring and love for the more than 100 children placed in their home over the decades. They took them on trips and cooked homemade birthday cakes, but made sure the children knew -- they weren’t responsible for the bad that had happened to them.
"She had a way of sitting you down and she would tell you, ‘Look, the things you have been through, it's not your fault. It's not your fault. You're just a child,'" Johnson said. "She always told me ‘You just needed a little love.’"
Deanna Inscoe said Rose and Donald adopted her at birth and says what really made a difference to kids was the love and safety they provided.
"You didn’t have to worry about being beaten in the middle of the night, you could actually get a good night’s sleep. You didn’t have to worry about your dad or mom coming home drunk and what was going to happen. (The children) were able to just live," Inscoe said.
Terry Smith was also 14 years old when she was taken into protective custody and placed with the Deals. She was their very first foster child.
Smith said coming into their home was a huge change. She had never before experienced the compassion and caring they extended to her.
"I had never even sat at a table before to eat," Smith recalled.
She remembers in one of their first dinners, the Deals teaching her to pray and thank God before they ate.
"They saved my life," Smith said. "Everything about that home was a memory."
Inscoe said her parents wanted the children to feel like they were a part of a family. That is exactly how Steve Conely remembered his four years with the Deals, especially during holidays.
"You got to be around their family and open up your gifts and have dinner with everybody, and it made you feel like you are part of the family," Conely said.
It was a family that grew even as the foster children became adults, keeping in touch with the Deals over the years. When Smith heard that Donald Deal wasn't doing well, she flew from Indiana back to Florida to tell him thank you one last time for saving her life.
Kimberly, Deanna, Steve and Terry all said Rose is so humble about the work she and Donald did. They changed lives, they saved lives and they showed children what it was like to be in a home filled with love.
"She always says, there’s more people that deserve the awards more than me and I tell her -- no mom, there aren’t many people who would take in 112 troubled girls," Johnson said. "That is beyond hero.”