It is a gripping story of kindness and rejection, and pride and prejudice, and it is a triumphant homecoming in a society that has grown wiser and more color-blind over the decades.
The story begins in 1947. The daughter of American teachers who had been working in India revealed her secret to her parents during their voyage home. She was, at 17, pregnant, and the baby’s father was the son of the family’s East Indian housekeeper. The child, a boy, was born in Rochester, N.Y., and the family placed him with an adoption agency. But, in those laced-with-prejudice days, no one—neither American nor Indian—wanted a bi-racial child.
No one except an incredible woman named Pearl S. Buck, who opened her arms, her heart and her home to the boy she named David. He was delivered to her Bucks County, Pa., estate on Christmas Eve in 1948. He grew up on the 68-acre Green Hills Farm—and to him the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author/humanitarian was simply “Gran.”
Now, David Yoder ’69 has come home again as new chairman of the board of Pearl S. Buck International, an umbrella group for the organizations Miss Buck founded while she lived at the farm. David was the first Welcome House baby — the first of more than 7,000 bi-racial children from 28 nations given homes by the agency Miss Buck founded the year after Yoder arrived. David grew up on the farm in Hilltown Township, one of 10 bi-racial children adopted by Miss Buck. He recalls her as being “very kind, very gentle, big on manners—making sure we ate properly. She didn’t fuss about things like wet bathing suits on furniture.”
David lived in Miss Buck’s home for two years. After that he was reared in Welcome House, a second farmhouse on the Buck estate, with his nine mixed-raced brothers and sisters, and Dale and Charlotte Yoder, children of Lloyd “Poppy” Yoder and his wife, Viola, who lived there and took over the day-to-day care of the 12 children.
The new chairman recalled a happy childhood — running and playing tennis, swimming and roller skating with his brothers and sisters, and staging pillow fights in the barn. “The barn had whole walls that were nothing but books. That was our cultural center,” he said. “Gran had a house in Vermont, and we went there every August. In the summers she also sent us to David Burpee’s farm for a week or to visit Oscar Hammerstein. I guess she and the Yoders needed a break from us.”
The seed catalog king and the Broadway librettist/producer were close friends of the novelist and her publisher-husband, Richard Walsh, as was novelist James A. Michener, all of whom were supporters of Welcome House. David was close to Poppy Yoder, longtime football coach at Pennridge High School in Perkasie, Pa., and eventually he took his name. He played football at Pennridge, and a proud Miss Buck attended his high school graduation. It was his turn to beam with pride when his beloved Gran was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree by Muhlenberg in 1966, while he was a student there.
In those years what David cared about was sports. He ran in track for four years and was captain of the football team his senior year. After he graduated from Muhlenberg in 1969 he earned a teaching certificate at Southern Connecticut State University, and served in the U.S. Army in Alaska. He eventually settled into corporate life with its frequent moves in this country and abroad. He worked for Goodyear as a product supervisor and later for Atlantic-Richfield in human resources, mostly involved in labor relations.
When he was first offered a foreign assignment he needed a passport and that required a birth certificate, but the document listed the infant’s name only as “Baby Boy,” although it did list the mother’s name. David had to hire a lawyer to get through the legal entanglements of obtaining the passport. It was a challenging process because David had never formally been adopted.
During that time, David said, his mother-in-law was attending a bridge party and offhandedly mentioned the problems involved. Shortly after that, in a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction fashion, a stranger called and told him, “I think I know who your mother is.” He and his children met his American grandmother, and he said it was a pleasant experience, but he never met his biological mother.
Now, David is human resource manager for Lockheed-Martin in Moorestown, N.J., and lives in Norristown, Pa. He and his wife, Nicki, have a daughter who is a pediatric surgeon in San Diego. Their son is an executive chef in Charlottesville, Va.
He said he never really told his story until a fund-raising breakfast last October, when he was introduced as newly-named chairman of Pearl S. Buck International. Kicking off the organization’s new Discover the Legacy program, he talked about his childhood and his brothers and sisters who were considered unadoptable.
“They seemed less than normal to some people, but to us they were normal kids – and they were good kids,” he said. Welcome House, the international adoption program that began with David Yoder, is part of the non-profit organization he now chairs.
Welcome House not only seeks homes where a child’s birth culture will be recognized and celebrated but it also prepares adoptive families for the challenges they will face. Families who cannot adopt may sponsor a child through Opportunity House, just as David was sponsored. A sponsor who lived in Hawaii paid David’s college tuition.
The international group David heads also oversees operations at the Pearl S. Buck House, centerpiece of the estate. The new program includes tours of the handsome stone farmhouse Miss Buck bought in the 1930s and lived in most of her life. David said he hopes the tours will shed more light on the children Miss Buck helped – children who now are making a difference all over the world – and lead to more adoptions and sponsorships.
And David will do all he can to carry on his grandmother’s legacy, to give those children “a second chance” – children who, like him, were victims of circumstance.
“There are a lot of little Davids out there,” he said.