Note: I’m the editor and publisher of Centerville-Washington Neighbors, a Best Version Media monthly magazine that debuts with the January 2020 issue. Each issue, there is a cover feature about an interesting local family. Here is the cover feature the debut issue on the Conboy family!
By Jeff Louderback
After meeting on a co-ed softball team, P.J. and Dianna Conboy later married when they were in their early 30s and started an engaging journey that neither envisioned. It’s a story with chapters that feature month upon month of negative pregnancy tests, fostering and then adopting an African-American brother and sister, the miracle of giving birth to two biological children, and a year-long odyssey that culminated with a family adventure to China to bring back their newest addition – a now 6-year-old girl they named Joy.
A typical day in their Centerville household is frenetically busy, and often downright exhausting, but the Conboys feel abundant gratitude every night they drift off to sleep, thankful that their life’s script has been authored this way.
P.J. is from Syracuse, but he remained in the Dayton area after earning a law degree from the University of Dayton. An architect who grew up in Beavercreek, Dianna graduated from Miami University. When they were married in 2005, P.J. was 32, and Dianna was 31. They were ingrained in their respective careers, yet longed for a family. They tried for several months to have children, but with no success. That’s when they opted for a different approach.
“We chose to become foster parents as a start,” Dianna said. “We have a friend who is a case worker in Greene County, and we completed the training and all the requirements to get certified.”
P.J. has one brother and sister. Dianna has one sister, and she dreamed of the day when she would have a growing family.
“I pictured lots of kids – a full house when you have holidays and birthdays,” Dianna said. “One of my best friends growing up had older and younger siblings. Holiday celebrations at their house were packed with different generations. I wanted to create that for our family.”
The first step occurred when Samuel entered their lives. He was a one-day-old baby. Skylar, his sister from the same biological parents, is 11 ½ months older and lived with a foster family in Fairborn. Skylar’s foster parents are loving people, Dianna explained, but they had raised a family, and they wanted to retire from foster care. It was an ideal situation, all agreed, for Skylar to live with the Conboys, and her younger brother.
“Our families remain close,” P.J. said. “The kids call them uncle Dan and aunt Jodi.”
Skylar joined the Conboy household when she was 2 ½. Months passed, and P.J. and Dianna gained their first experience with the lengthy adoption process. They officially adopted Samuel and Skylar in April 2010. On Mother’s Day, less than a month later, the couple was given the news they thought they would never hear. Dianna was pregnant.
“After 60 months and 60 failed pregnancy tests since we were married, hearing that brought a flood of joyful emotions,” Dianna said. “You get your hopes up each test, and then feel dejected when you see the negative result. People tell you things like, “If you relax, you will get pregnant.” That makes the mother feel like she is doing something wrong. It’s a burdensome feeling.”
Rileigh was born, and two years later, Dianna gave birth to Quinn. The family moved to Centerville because the schools have exceptional IEP programs for Samuel and Skylar to thrive with their ADHD.
The Conboys were ecstatic with their growing family. Skylar, Samuel, Rileigh, and Quinn formed a bond that is as tight as the closest of siblings, seemingly oblivious to the racially-mixed dynamic, except when Dianna or P.J. picked up Skylar and Samuel, and puzzled friends would ask, “That is your mom?,” or “Those are your parents?”
The family of six settled into their lives, and the Conboys did not plan on another child – until they were introduced to the future pastor of Kirkmont Presbyterian Church in Beavercreek, the church Dianna has attended since childhood.
“When the church was searching for a new pastor, the candidate they interviewed was interested in adopting children from different ethnic backgrounds. The pastor was hired, and our families became close.
Dan and Amanda Borgelt have three biological children, and they opened their hearts to two Chinese children who they named Noah and Judah.
“Why don’t we adopt a child from China?” P.J. asked Dianna as the couple learned about the Borgelts’ adoption story.
“International adoption is about a year-long process that is emotionally draining with extensive paperwork and getting approvals from both governments, and meetings with case workers,” Dianna said. “It’s also expensive, and can cost anywhere between $25,000 to $40,000, which must be raised within a year.”
Excited about the addition of a new sibling, the Conboy children were actively involved in the fundraising, which included everything from garage sales and family game nights at church to babysitting and t-shirt sales. A quilt was crafted where, for a donation, people could add a meaningful word or Bible verse. The family generated a total of $35,000 to fund the adoption requirements.
“We created the t-shirt with the words, ‘Choose Joy’ on the front,” Dianna said. “Adopted kids are chosen, and we were naming her Joy.”
“All the work they did helped them feel involved through the process,” P.J. added. “It showed them how working together can result in achieving even seemingly insurmountable tasks.”
In late November 2018, it was time for the Conboys to complete the final guidelines to adopt Joy. The family ventured to China, where they spent 2 ½ weeks.
“We wanted our kids to see other side of the world, and to see the orphanage where Joy had lived, and to understand the culture of where she is from,” Dianna said.
Three days in Beijing preceded five days in Joy’s province and then a flight to Guangzhou, where the U.S. embassy is located.
“You must have permission to travel between provinces,” P.J. explained. “It’s like having to get permission to travel from Ohio to Kentucky.”
A plethora of paperwork, a mandatory TB test for Joy and the procedures to obtain Joy’s passport and documents for her to legally set foot on U.S. soil occupied many of the Conboys’ time there. The family, Joy included, made sure to fill the open time with fun. They saw the Great Wall, visited a zoo where pandas were bred in captivity, and explored numerous sites to give the children a deep first-hand understanding of the Chinese culture.
Dianna’s parents accompanied the family, and her father underwent gall bladder removal surgery at a new hospital built for Americans living and visiting the country.
“It was undoubtedly a memorable experience with finalizing the adoption process with Joy, seeing as many sites as we could, spending Thanksgiving in China, and then my dad having his gall bladder removed,” Dianna said. “That’s a trip none of us will forget.”
“Don’t forget the last leg of the flight home, when we were at the Detroit airport,” P.J. said with a laugh. That was the afternoon when Ohio State pummeled Michigan, 62-29, at Ohio Stadium, so P.J. and Samuel watched some of the game between flights.
The Conboy kids’ personalities are articulate, vibrant and varied.
Skylar plays basketball, and she loves Muse Machine and the Junior Optimist Club.
Samuel plays basketball and football, dances, draws and plays video games. He likes classic cars, especially Mustangs and a ’70 Dodge Charger.
Rileigh is involved in cheerleading, swimming and diving, art, and soccer.
“I’m gonna try gymnastics, too!” she said with excitement. “I like to decorate – Christmas trees and houses.”
“She is our artist. She is so creative,” P.J. said. Many talents are natural to her. And she doesn’t like to lose at anything.”
“No, I don’t!” Rileigh responded with a smile. “Oh, I want a puppy. And daddy, can I get my ears pierced?”
“Maybe we should talk about that another time,” P.J. responded.
Quinn has nicknames with anything that starts with the letter Q
“Like Q-Dog, Q-tip, but also Jewel of the Diamond,” Dianna said.
Quinn is a cheerleader, dancer, singer and Daisy Scout with plans to try ballet.
“She also loves to get her way,” P.J. said with a grin.
Joy, who has Down Syndrome, is learning American sign language, and she likes swimming and dancing.
“We learned American sign language as a family before going to China because we knew that communication would be a big gap,” Dianna said. “Verbal communication takes longer to develop for a special needs child.
“Joy knows 75 signs,” Dianna added. “She can communicate to tell you if she is warm or cold, and if she wants an apple or a banana, as a few examples.”
During foster care training, P.J. and Dianna learned that adopted children have a tendency to have a void in their hearts. Dianna said. To help Skylar and Samuel feel connected to their birth family, the Conboys created the “Life Book.”
“The Life Book contains lots of photographs and full names of their biological mother and father as well as their own birth names, which are different than the names we chose,” Dianna said. “It tells all the details, at a child’s level, of why their birth family could no longer take care of them and keep them safe.
“It describes as much as we know about their family history and where they are from,” she added. “We also wrote about their birth parents’ favorite foods, favorite types of music favorite colors, and those types of things because, while these details might be insignificant to you or me, they might be very important to Sam and Skylar as they try to mentally recreate that piece of their identity.”
A typical day at the Conboy’s home begins at 7 a.m. P.J. works at a law firm in Huber Heights. Dianna has a part-time role as an architect that allows her to stay at her home office.
“I drop off Rileigh at Cline, Quinn at PVS, and Sam and Skylar at Tower. Afterwards, I pick up a little girl I babysit for, and she plays with Joy in morning before they go to afternoon Kindergarten at PVS,” Dianna said. “Then there are few hours at home, and for errands followed by pick-ups from school, a return home for homework, and dinner and activities. By the time we get to bed, we are ready for bed!”
The Conboys belong to Dunsinane Swim & Tennis Club, and they snow ski and spend time as a family at Bill Yeck Park. When they have alone time, they have dinner with fellow Wee Elks football parents.
A trip to Disney World, Centerville Hustle basketball season, swim team and VBS in summer and more cheer and football in the fall are among the plans for 2020. And perhaps another addition?
“Our Christian faith teaches us to love one another,” Dianna said. “Once you realize how many children there are who need families, if you feel there is room for another in your home, that is one of life’s greatest mutual gifts.
“There are definitely days that are so challenging where we feel exhausted and weak,” she added. “However, even when we feel at our weakest point, a small, still voice reminds us that we are still strong, both physically and in our faith.”