1998 Adell Davis

Adell Davis has a heart that always has enough room for more love.

Since she started taking in foster children in 1976, the 75-year-old missionary has had about 61 children in her home -- and has raised three of them from toddlers to adults.

But it was specifically for the way she nurtures and teaches those wayward and innocent souls that got the attention of the staff at Oak Street School and inspired them to nominate her for the Paul L. Powell Citizen of the Year Award.

Davis was selected by a committee for the award in February.

In a surprise presentation, Davis became the 33rd winner of the award named for the 39-year editor of the former Courier-Crescent.

Davis, whose granddaughter, Christina Florence, was honored as student of the month by the Orrville Area Chamber of Commerce, was escorted by her daughter and son-in-law, Mazelle and Jerome Florence.

The daughter of sharecropper parents in Autaugaville, Ala., Davis began to discover the secret that everyone had been keeping.

"These children come to Adell," wrote teacher Margaret Ann Weeman in her nomination letter, "struggling with feelings of worthlessness, confusion, frustration, sadness and anger." Davis takes these feelings and "provides guidance and encouragement they need to go out and face the world we live in."

School secretary Sue Haley wrote that Davis makes sure the children "are in school every day unless they are sick and she also makes them attend Sunday school and church."

Haley described her as "Orrville's Mother Teresa."

"When my children were grown, I had room in my house so I thought I could be a help to the children," Davis said.

The children face numerous problems, she said, such as neglect, living in drug houses and abuse at the hands of their parents. "It's so sad," she said shaking her head. "Some of them -- the parents are on drugs," she said. "Some have bruises. Some of the kids -- their parents are in prison."

Davis said that many times, it is through dreams that she gets messages from God that things are going as planned. "I see the children in my dreams," she said. "Then the next day, I get a call to go and get them. ... I feel that God wants me to do this. It's special work that I was called to do."

When the children must leave to go back to their homes, Davis said, it breaks her heart. "I hug 'em and squeeze 'em tight and tell them 'I love you.' Of course, I always pray for them -- every one."

Mazelle Florence believes that her mother's "open heart" is a gift from God. "Everybody doesn't have it," she said. "But I think that is why God put her here. When we're out somewhere shopping or something and she sees little children, she has to go over and talk to them ... And she loves and raises her foster children just as she loves us."

Davis said she gets calls at all hours of the day and night to go to Akron and get the children. "There aren't enough foster parents who will take black and biracial children in Summit County," she said, "so I take them."