Kristen Marble bounced, paced and stared anxiously at the escalator leading down from the terminal at Billings Logan International Airport.
It was a moment for which she and her family spent nearly half of a decade preparing.
“After four years you’d think waiting a few more minutes wouldn’t be so hard,” she said Friday.
The anticipation didn’t last much longer, though. A few moments later, John Marble strode to the top of the stairway with the two newest additions to the family in tow.
Viergine, 8, and Florencia, 9, are Haitian orphans the Glendive family had been working to bring into the country. The girls landed safely in Billings at about 1 p.m. and were greeted by a vigorous round of hugs from their new family.
“It’s a relief to be done and home,” John Marble said. “We’ve been in go and crisis mode for so long.”
The Marbles have been in the process of adopting the girls for the past four years, and their paperwork was almost done when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake ravaged Haiti on Jan. 12. It devastated the city of Port-au-Prince, where the girls had been living at the A New Arrival orphanage, and killed an estimated 150,000 people.
John Marble and Chad and Kristen Becker, a Fairfield couple also adopting children from the orphanage, flew to Florida with two other families from Connecticut and Illinois in hopes of getting about two dozen orphans at A New Arrival out of Haiti and into their adoptive homes in America.
It was a slow and frustrating process. They knew the kids were OK but had been told they were sleeping outside on cots because the orphanage was no longer structurally sound. Added was a fear of looters stealing supplies, sweltering heat and some uncertainty about when, or if, new supplies would arrive.
Montana Sens. Max Baucus and John Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg soon got involved, pleading with government agencies and the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince to expedite the adoption process for the roughly two dozen kids at the orphanage.
“Some of those agencies called us yesterday and said, ‘Will you please stop having congressmen call us,’ ” John Marble said.
With the politicians’ help, orphanage director Rock Cayo and a parent who made it into Haiti were able to secure appointments late last week for the kids at the embassy, but they were twice turned away. Then on Saturday, they got through and were able to get approval to get most of the kids out of the country. All of them were somewhere in the process of being adopted before the earthquake.
Visas for 19 of the children from A New Arrival who are far enough along in the adoption process were approved over the weekend. The kids and their adoptive families are now finishing paperwork to finalize the adoptions.
Viergine, Florencia and John Marble were met Friday at the airport by Kristen Marble, the other eight children in the Marble family and a small group of locals who wanted to welcome them to Montana.
Cathlene Barone, of Billings, and two friends came to greet the girls with balloons and stuffed animals, even though they had never met the Marbles before Tuesday. She said giving them a warm welcome seemed appropriate after their long journey.
“How can you not come and just welcome these children,” Barone said. “You ask, ‘Why?’ but I ask, ‘Why not?’ ”
After a round of long hugs from their new family, the girls were given backpacks filled with dolls and a few other goodies, as well as new coats and gloves to help them adjust to the Montana winter.
Adoption is nothing new for the Marble family, which includes eight other children, ranging from 4 to 17 years old. Five of them — a quartet of Ukrainian siblings and a young boy from Russia — are adopted. John Marble, who runs the volleyball program at Dawson Community College in Glendive, said the family has made a point to adopt harder-to-place kids who are past infant and toddler ages.
“It’s great to see their smiles,” he said of the Haitian girls. “This is some stability for them now.”
The girls were immediately surrounded by their new brothers and sisters. Florencia was quick to warm up to them and flashed a wide, easy grin while listening attentively to the other kids as they helped put on her new coat before pulling her outside for her first taste of the Montana winter.
Viergine was a little more reserved at first, showing a quick, nervous smile every few minutes and sitting shyly on a bench. But about 30 minutes later, she’d opened up, too, and was constantly laughing while batting around a balloon with her new siblings.
“It’s a dream come true,” Kristen Marble said as she hugged the newest additions to her family. “It’s a dream I wasn’t sure would come true after the last four years.”