First an Adoption, Then a Wedding for Middle-Aged Couple

Nov. 20 was “the best day ever!” for Janet Merkel and her long-time beau Thomas Knake. That’s the day when Janet finally got to adopt her two grandsons, Gavin, 9, and Noah, 6, then be married to Tom by the same judge.

Merkel and Knake wedding ceremony

It was a long time coming for the pair, both in their early 50s, who have been together for almost 14 years, sharing a house since Gavin was born. Both boys became part of Janet and Tom’s home after Noah was born. Janet’s daughter’s life issues prevented her from caring for her sons, so Grandma stepped in. But because the road to adoption was not straight, she and Tom had to put marriage off time and time again, until all legal issues were satisfied, all requirements were fulfilled, and a court date was firmed up. Because rules require caregivers who are married to be legally wed a year before an adoption can take place, Janet had to adopt the boys as a single woman.

But that changed within minutes after Judge William Domina granted the adoption. He then stepped down from the bench, the boys and the couple moved forward, and he married the couple. Before about 15 family members and friends in the courtroom, he joked that he was providing one-stop-shopping. “If you want your car fixed, maybe we can get to that, too!”

Judge Domina said it was a very special day for his courtroom, telling Janet and Tom, “I want to thank you for this opportunity.”

Although a lot of fun and joy were present, one could feel the love between the couple as they looked into each other’s eyes and repeated their vows. “I love you!” Tom solemnly said to Janet as the judge pronounced them man and wife and she beamed beautifully in her long, navy blue lace gown.

Merkel and Knake family with Judge Domina
From left, Tom, Gavin, Noah, Janet and Judge Domina.

“It’s about time!” someone yelled from the audience.

That was a sentiment widely shared by everyone there.

“There’ve been about a thousand honeymoons since we got together,” Tom said a few weeks before the wedding. “I don’t want to wait another day not being married to her.”

Tom knew Janet was the one for him after meeting her at a rock concert where he was providing lighting. This doctor’s office manager and he started talking, “and we never stopped,” she said.

After the many twists and turns, Tom called their SaintA case manager, Patti Porter, and asked her for some guidance in seeking out a wedding from the adopting judge once that date was set.

“I initiated all of it; I wrote a letter to the judge, and it was getting kind of corny,” he said. “I changed it several times.”

While Tom was trying to get his act together, Janet picked up the phone, called the judge’s courtroom clerk, and set up the wedding. The clerk was very excited with the idea, Janet said.

“She said they think it will be an awesome day,” Janet said. Tom deleted his letter.

Merkel and Knake family

Once things were set up, Tom began singing, “We’re getting married!” in a sing-song voice, over and over to the kids.

“Stop singing that song!” Gavin told him when a visitor was at their home. He later admitted the marriage idea was “awesome.” Noah added that he thought it was “cool.”

When Judge Domina asked the boys what they understood the adoption to mean, “We get to live with grandma and grandpa forever,” Gavin answered with a big smile. Clutching a Teddy bear and swinging round and round, “When are my grandma and grandpa getting married?” was Noah’s reply.

Under their spiffy blue dress shirts and ties, the boys sported Superman T-shirts that were given to them by Janet’s niece, Joann Roth, who flew in from Ventura, California, to be her maid of honor.

“Superman was adopted, as everyone knows,” Joann told everyone in the courtroom, “and these are super kids.”

The fact that they are fourth-generation Little River Band of Ottawa Indians also was celebrated by two elders who attended the wedding to honor the boys, their Great Aunt Jackie Redwoman and great-great grandmother Celia Kohls.

After the ceremony, the couple noted how much their case worker, Patty Porter, and SaintA had helped them, with the classes and information they needed to become foster parents, and with lots of support.

“I’ve never seen a more loving and nurturing home,” Patty told the judge before he granted the adoption.

And now it’s a forever home, as Judge Domina said, “And that’s a good thing.”

P.S. Tom already is planning to adopt the boys one year from Nov. 20, 2015, fulfilling the necessary waiting requirement. As he said before the wedding, “I can’t wait another day!”

Interested in learning more about our foster care and adoption services? Visit

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