Bob Opsahl crossed a line, changed lives forever
As journalists, we are taught to be objective. Our instincts tell us not to cross that line between our professional and personal lives. Fair and balanced, without all the conflicted connotations that now brings.
Bob Opsahl failed miserably at that.
He tried to keep his emotions tucked away, all in one tidy box. No feelings. Nothing to see here. It was impossible.
Those kids kept tugging at him. Abused, neglected, forgotten. They were throwaways, for different reasons. Lousy parents. Indifferent caregivers. Their own bad manners, and sometimes even violent tendencies.
Many of those kids had built up walls to protect themselves. It was such a conflicted universe. Don’t trust adults because they will always break your heart. Please love me because I need a mommy and daddy.
Opsahl brought those sad, lonely, tormented kids into your homes every week, hosting a news segment called “Wednesday’s Child” for 25 years on WFTV-Channel 9. The stories highlighted individual children from foster care who were available for adoption.
“They were Wednesday’s children because in many cases they had been neglected, abused or abandoned,” Opsahl said. “I noticed that most of them were very eager to develop a relationship with a caring adult.
“One little girl, she was probably about 8. She and her little brother were out at the playground, and we had been playing for a while. We were just having fun. It wasn’t very long, maybe an hour or so later, that she started calling me daddy.
“That grabs you by the heart and really doesn’t let you go.”
Over those years, Opsahl helped more than 500 children find adoptive homes. Bravo. But this is where things get personal. His heart started doing the talking.
Through the eyes of these children, Opsahl saw what they desperately craved:
Stability. Warmth. Trust. Compassion. Love.
Opsahl and his then-wife started thinking about adopting some of the children. It didn’t happen right away, but Opsahl never let go of those kids.
So he and his wife eventually worked their way into the picture. You didn’t see it on TV, but they moved quietly and efficiently.
First came a little girl. An infant through a private adoption. They called her Rachael.
Seven years later came a boy. Another infant through a private adoption. They called him Jordan.
They weren’t just Wednesday’s children. They were his children. Every day of the week.
They were no different than all those little ones and big ones whom he helped find forever homes for over the years.
Opsahl had a distinguished career as a journalist in Central Florida after graduating from UCF in 1976 with a degree in communications.
You should know him by now, unless you don’t own a TV. He was the longest-serving anchor in Orlando TV history, joining Channel 9 Eyewitness news team in 1978 as a general assignment reporter before becoming an anchor in 1980. He retired earlier this year, and you may find him enjoying those perks on a golf course somewhere near you.
“I like it a lot.” he says, “and thinking of sticking with it.”
But before walking away, Opsahl became part of the story. He changed his life — and the lives of two children — forever.
Rachael is now 33, and recently gave birth to another grandchild. Jordan is 26 and still living at home.
The kids always knew they were adopted. No family secrets. Their parents even read them a book, “Why Was I Adopted?” at bedtime, putting a positive spin on the adoptive process.
There’s no shame in that. No stigma. It was all a good thing.
Opsahl was recently honored by a statewide group, Florida’s Children First, that advances the rights of children in foster care. Opsahl received the “Media Advocate of the Year Award,” one of those lifetime-achievement deals that was well-deserved.
Opsahl has done much good in this world. All of Wednesday’s children agree with those sentiments, and will be forever grateful. But Opsahl has much to thank them for as well.
They opened his eyes, and his heart, forevermore.
Septeber 26, 2016
Read George Diaz‘s blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego