2 Leaps of Faith Bring 6 Times the Love

Getting all the kids to sit still for a family photo can be a challenge for the Bonadeo family. After adopting a set of four siblings (Peter, Katherine, David and Dorothea), John Bonadeo and Betty McDonald finalized the adoption of brothers Johnny, center, with sunglasses and James, to his left, during the Court Adoption Party.

Love has led a Del Mar couple to take a leap of faith – not once, but twice. The payoff has been huge. Their life is overflowing with love – and six new children they agreed to adopt sight unseen.

Betty McDonald, 60, and John Bonadeo, 63, married later in life and tried unsuccessfully to have children. They decided to move to California and begin the adoption process here in San Diego County.

“We moved to California for the weather, of course, and because California is very adoption-friendly,” said McDonald.

They had just finished taking the adoption and foster parent classes and were approved by the County Foster and Adoptive Resource Family Services when they were contacted by the pastor that married them back in Illinois. He said there were four children up for adoption.

“We didn’t know who they were – we didn’t know if they were boys, girls, how old they were or anything,” McDonald said. “We just said we’d take them.”

Dorothea, 13, Peter, 12, David, 11, and Katherine, 9, – those are current ages – were adopted in 2012.

“I remember in the first six months when we’d get a babysitter, we wouldn’t just walk out of the house, we’d run,” said McDonald jokingly.

But that didn’t stop them from wanting more. In 2016, McDonald was reading through an email from the County highlighting children up for adoption when she spotted something that tugged at her heart strings again.

“They said there were two adorable boys at Polinsky Children’s Center that needed a home,” she said.

“I didn’t read any further to see who they were or what the issues were, I just said, ‘Well, we have an extra bedroom.’”

They were already on the list to adopt more children and they became foster parents to brothers James, 8, and Johnny, who turns 6 on Thanksgiving Day.

“We picked up James and Johnny on a Monday – the day before James’ birthday,” said McDonald. “We brought them home and all the kids went into one bedroom together.

“All you could hear was pandemonium until around 11 p.m. And we didn’t shut it down, we just let it happen.”

Last week, they finalized the adoption at the annual Court Adoption Party held every November during National Adoption Awareness Month.

Bonadeo is a general contractor and does home remodeling work. McDonald is a former Secret Service agent who spent time protecting presidents.

It was easier to protect the president. Because he was cooperative. Keeping track of six kids is far, far harder.

Former Secret Service Agent and adoptive mom Betty McDonald

In fact, the couple admit to being a little overconfident.

“We said, ‘Hey we handled four, what’s two more?’” McDonald said.

But they quickly realized two more children adds up. She said the house was reasonably organized when they had just the four children, but now it’s almost impossible to be organized all the time.

“With six, it’s impossible to keep your house looking the way you want it. That’s probably the thing that bothers me the most.”

The first year, there were some “us and them,” among the children, McDonald said, and they would divide along birth sibling lines.

“Now they protect each other and when they see each other at school they hug,” she said. “The school said they’ve never seen a tighter sibling group.”

All six of the children are excelling at school now. Dorothea, who couldn’t read when she was adopted at age 8, just made the honor roll.

The parents prioritize homework. Monday through Thursday, the TV doesn’t come on, and the only electronics allowed are the iPads used for homework.

“We’re a little old fashioned in that respect,” McDonald said.

McDonald and Bonadeo say there could be more additions to the family in the future even as they prepare for the teenage years ahead and eventually sending the children off to college.

“There’s going to be six manifestations of the teenage years,” McDonald said. “Six seems like enough.”

But Bonadeo added, “She’s said that before, but never say never.”

There are usually about 40 children waiting for permanent adoptive homes in San Diego County at any given time. There are approximately 2,650 children in out-of-home foster care. You can visit the County’s website for more information on becoming a foster/adoptive resource parent or to learn more about the adoption process.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact