Foster Family Gives Kids a Father-Figure They Can Look Up to; an Orange Park Couple Is Named Florida's Foster Parents of the Year

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Byline: MARY MARAGHY

The word "father" has meant abuse, neglect and pain to some Clay County children.

But foster father Richard Ayres of Orange Park is redefining it for others.

On this Father's Day weekend, Ayres, 34, stands out. He and his wife, Mary, were named Florida's Foster Parents of the Year.

Ayres has no biological children, but on April 29 he and Mary adopted three children who were in foster care. In the past five years, they have opened their home to about 50 children who were mistreated, many of them by a male caregiver.

"I try to show them a different side," he said. "To show them a father can be loving, caring and a good role model."

He's doing it well, said Dee Wilson, president of the Greater Jacksonville Foster Parent Association, which nominated the Ayreses for the award. Wilson said Ayres takes the children boating and motorcycling.

"He takes them everywhere. He stepped right in to it, as if he's been a father for 20 years. Richard's wonderful. He's just a big old baby doll," Wilson said.

Ayres, born in California and raised in Texas, has been in the U.S. Navy for 15 years and works as a P-3 avionics instructor at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.

The Ayres have three foster children, ages 1, 2 and 3, staying with them in addition to their newly adopted children, ages 7, 9 and 12. …