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Rayanne and Gary Crick

Rayanne and Gary Crick sit with their children, from left, Lexie, 8, Taylor, 11, Elijah, 5, Samuel, 4, Julius Thompson, 7, and Lynsie, 8.

In the past 10 years, Rayanne and Gary Crick have opened their home to dozens of children going through tough times.

The Billings couple has fostered 70 children, adopting five of them, on top of raising a daughter of their own. When they pose for a photo, the family barely fits on the couch in their family room.

An artwork collage on the wall behind the couch sums up the Cricks’ priorities: family and faith. An ornate “Family” sign is joined by a cross and different sayings, including a Bible verse: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

These days, they’re leaning on their faith and the strength of friends and family as Gary deals with his own difficult health challenge, one that took him and Rayanne by surprise. A rare form of cancer will require most of his left leg to be amputated.

“I’m looking at a totally life-changing operation,” said Gary, sitting with Rayanne at the kitchen table. “I never imagined it would happen.”

A burgeoning family

An interview at the Crick home is a bit of organized chaos. Children bundle up to play outside, but occasionally one or another interrupts with a need or a request.

"It's a little like herding wet cats," Rayanne said, smiling.

She spends her days taking youngsters to therapy, feeding and caring for them while Ray works full-time for the Heights Water District.

Gary, 58, and Rayanne, 46, met online on a Christian dating site. Rayanne, a Canadian, was living in Vancouver, British Columbia, at the time her friends dared her to sign up.

“He’s a cradle robber,” Rayanne joked, noting their 12-year age difference.

Gary, a Billings native, graduated from Billings West High School in 1977 and earned a degree in automotive technology from Montana State University Billings’ College of Technology in 1981. Rayanne, who earned a degree as an athletic trainer, worked with professional teams, including the Canadian Olympic wrestling team.

They courted online, by phone and in person over 2 ½ years, married in 2005 and settled in Billings. Rayanne worked in outpatient rehabilitation at St. Vincent Healtcare.

Three different physicians in Canada and the U.S. told Rayanne that she would never bear children. 

"We felt like if we can't have kids, we're going to bless other people's kids," she said. 

Despite the medical news, they got pregnant with their oldest daughter, Taylor, who was born in 2006. To spend time with her daughter, Rayanne opened a home day care.

In 2008, she and Gary bought the day care at the Garfield Center on Billings’ South Side.

“That’s where our foster-care journey began,” Rayanne said.

Some of the mothers of the children they cared for were recovering addicts. When the women relapsed, they asked if while they sought treatment the Cricks could take in their children.

The couple became licensed with the state of Montana as foster parents to care for those and other children placed with them by Child Protective Services.

“Some went back to their parents, some went to other family members, and some didn’t leave, which is how we adopted our five,” Rayanne said.

They include twins Lexie and Lynsie, 8; Elijah, 5; Samuel, 4; and Julius Thompson, 7. In Julius' case, the couple got permanent guardianship of him three years ago.

One of their adopted children came to them as an infant with a brain injury from a traumatic birth. Another arrived at 22 months “cussing like a sailor,” Gary said. A third was born addicted to meth and slept only in 20-minute spurts.

For all the children they have fostered, Gary said, the couple’s goal has been the same.

“For me it’s the children, their innocence, just being a kid, not worrying about where they’re going to live, to have food to eat, a bed and knowing that police won’t be coming to the house,” he said. “Giving them consistency and love and a stable environment.”

Gary and Rayanne both had that growing up “and it was my desire to let these kids have the same things, so they could thrive,” he said.

They’ve found support in a special-needs group at Faith Chapel, where the family attends church. The couple’s last foster child left will go live with her mother on Jan. 12, Rayanne said.

“Our focus on foster care has come to a bit of a screeching halt,” she said. “Now we go from trying to heal kids to trying to heal Gary.”

A difficult diagnosis

On Aug. 29, Gary went to the Yellowstone Surgery Center for a routine hip replacement. During the operation, the surgeon found two cysts that lined the hip socket, which, when removed, revealed a hole in the pelvic floor.

A series of medical tests revealed Gary had a grade 3 chondrosarcoma, a type of cancer that doesn’t respond to chemotherapy or radiation. It came as a total shock to a man who lived a healthy lifestyle and had no family history of cancer.

“It’s like you get a huge weight dropped on you,” he said.

They pondered some less-invasive options, but concern that the cancer could metastasize caused doctors to decide to amputate Gary’s left leg and his left pelvic bone. The eight-to-12-hour surgery will be performed Wednesday at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.

Gary has had a hard time wrapping his mind around that fact that he’ll walk into the hospital with two legs and walk out with one.

“I put everything in God’s hands because I can’t deal with it,” Gary said, his eyes watering. “He’s kept me fairly calm, helped me to sleep. I have moments when I break down crying. I can’t believe it’s happening.”

It will be several months before he can be fitted for a prosthetic leg. And he faces a future filled with uncertainties over his health and his ability to support his family.

The couple is still trying to figure out the logistics of keeping their children’s lives going in Billings while staying in Utah for four to six weeks for Gary’s surgery and recovery. They're also looking for lodging and transportation for Rayanne in Utah.

Others have come forward to help out. Leann Young, a longtime friend of Rayanne’s who lives in Vancover, started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 toward present and future expenses.

That includes fixing up and selling their home and buying an ADA-approved modular home on a piece of land to make life easier on Gary. Young called the couple “great examples of the kind of people that you want to meet, that you want to have in your life.”

“When the news came in about Gary, I felt I needed to do something,” she said in a telephone interview. 

The fund has raised more than $4,900. Young hopes others will lend a hand to the two people who have opened their hearts to so many children over the years.

Rayanne is grateful for the outpouring of care she and Gary have experienced.

"We honestly have this huge village of people through the foster and adoptive community, through church, family and friends that have completely embraced our family and helped us make things work," she said. "At our lowest point, somebody pulled us up by our bootstraps and kept us walking."

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General Assignment and Health Care Reporter

General assignment and healthcare reporter at The Billings Gazette.