Growing up in East Ridge, Keith Lane met his wife when he was just seven years old. She was ‘the girl next door’ and a friend who he had always hoped to marry one day. When life’s circumstances took him in another direction, Keith and his wife Deana had married other people before things took a turn and brought them together.
Keith’s father Bill had died of a massive heart attack, leaving 10-year-old Keith to act as the man of the house until his mother Linda remarried.
“My dad had worked for NASA and I wanted to be an astronaut.
I also wanted to design cars and my favorite show was The Fall Guy. I wanted to be a stunt man too,” Keith remembers.
“I would jump from the house onto our trampoline. I was a good kid though. I had to walk the line and I avoided trouble,” Keith says.
Being the older of his brother and sister, Keith fell into the role of protector – especially where his mother was concerned while he watched her go through difficulties.
Keith worked at the movie theater in East Ridge (now the Rave). He attended the University of Phoenix and obtained his degree in computer science from Chattanooga State.
“I started in accounting and had worked at the Choo Choo as a night auditor, and then later at Unum Provident in corporate tax. I was good at accounting, but was going to school for computer stuff and it was hard with my accounting experience to break away from that,” Keith admits. He now works with TVA as disaster recovery coordinator.
When Keith was growing up, Deana was always a part of his life in some way.
“My grandfather owned a convenience store in East Ridge and her grandfather owned an auto repair place right next door,” Keith states.
“When we were in high school her dad worked for TVA and Deanna's family moved next to us. I pretty much knew then that I was going to marry that girl,” Keith insists.
“I had taught her how to do a back-handspring in the back yard. One of the first things we did together was to go swimming,” Keith smiles, “so I had to see her in a bikini.”
Keith would find himself constantly at her house helping her wash dishes or whatever he could. “She probably thought I was just being a good friend, but I was trying to be a boyfriend,” he says bashfully.
Keith’s dreams of marrying Deana were thwarted when Deana married someone else.
“We both married the wrong people. She married somebody else, so I thought, “Well, she is taken, so I married somebody else – but we always stayed in touch. We were always really good friends. It took us 25 years to get married,” Keith expresses.
When Keith married his first wife in 1994, they had three children. “We had good times during our marriage but I knew I had married the wrong person. She had a lot of problems with pain medication,” Keith confesses.
He had been raised that you didn’t throw your marriage away – you stuck it out and he did his best to make things work.
The destruction from the chemicals in his wife’s body took over and she later died. Ironically, their oldest child was 10 years old – the same age Keith was when he had lost his father.
Keith knew from his own loss what impact would follow his children as they got older and so he supported the idea of counseling.
Meanwhile, Deana had suffered an abusive marriage and dealing with the court system while raising her five children on her own. The Partnership in Chattanooga was a Godsend to her and her children.
Deana began volunteering for the Partnership and won the Telly Award in the social responsibility category of how the Partnership had helped her.
“People think the abuser gets arrested - you go to court and it’s handled, but it’s not really like that,” Keith says.
“The victim doesn’t seem to have the rights; the abuser does and it is a really drawn out process. The Partnership helped her in making sure he did time in jail, but the laws in Tennessee are probably not as strict as they should be,” Keith voices.
Since they have been married, Keith has adopted one of the kids this September. They are hoping to have the other adoptions final after the first of the year.
Against the odds, Keith and Deanna embrace their love story. “She was always the love of my life,” Keith insists. “When I proposed, I took her on a walk and told her I had something I needed to say to her. She thought I was going to break up with her. Any woman that I had ever dated I always had compared to her.”
Keith knew their love would be tested as they each had separate issues to deal with. “My children suffered abandonment issues and her children endured violence in the home. There were all these little parts that we were trying to put together. Putting a hybrid family together is tough anyway, but when you add all these other concerns into it, it is a huge challenge,” Keith avers.
Keith continues to surprise Deana with flowers, cards and date nights. She says, “Once he secretly arranged for the children to be taken care of for the weekend and took me to Gatlinburg. I had no idea; he had even packed my bag for me!”
All eight children of the Lane household have accepted the unison. “Deana has known my kids all of their life. She has always been involved in their lives and our kids kind of saw each other as they were growing up. It was a bit of a transition, but it was a good fit,” Keith says.
“There have been some definite hurdles. One of the biggest would be the rules, expectations and getting everyone on the same page of what is expected of them,” Keith acknowledges.
“I trust my wife with the kids – we never say ‘your kids’ ‘my kids’ – we never use the word step-parent. You just have to communicate. You have to talk about it. We started counseling immediately with a Christian counselor. We knew with our own past struggles plus with what our children were dealing with, if we were going to have any kind of chance of really making it we would have to have a good counselor. But I really love my wife and know how blessed I am,” Keith says.
Keith and Deana’s parents have been of great support for them. “Knowing what all we have been through, they want it to work out and they know there will be challenges so they are there for us,” Keith says.
“I always saw her dad getting up and going to work – never saw him yelling at his wife. I really looked up to him a lot and my mom was my rock. I could talk to her about anything,” Keith maintains.
The Lane household never seems to have a dull moment with the eight children ranging in age from eight to 16.
Keith does his best to make wonderful memories for the multitude as a family.
“About two years ago, we were going to do ‘Christmas in July’. We had an SUV loaded down with the kids and all our stuff; it was almost like a ‘National Lampoon’s’ thing,” Keith laughs.
“We were going down Ooltewah Ringgold Road headed to the Christmas Place in Gatlinburg. There were people cleaning up on the side of the road and I decided to act goofy and started honking at them and waving. All of a sudden the car in front of me came to a complete stop. I locked up the brakes and when I looked in the rear view mirror, everything was coming forward and the kids were going, ‘A-h-h-h-h!’ I couldn’t stop and had to turn off the side of the road and back on and I was like, ‘whew!’ - It was really funny. I acted like it was no big deal and everyone else was screaming,” Keith gestures while using a line from Chevy Chase’s character Clark Griswold, “Roll em up!”
Deana says, “Keith is always full of surprises even after all these years. He is ready to jump in and play with the kids - whether it is letting Emma paint his face at the Discovery Museum and not removing it until we get home (because Emma says it's beautiful) or he will slide down the hill in front of Hennen's on cardboard with all the kids!”
With such a large family, Keith and Deana have a system they use where they sometimes coordinate activities by age, referring to the older kids as “the bigs” and the younger ones as “the littles”.
When Keith’s first wife had passed away, he dealt with his grief by trying to fill that void with material things and had learned immediately to get that under control.
“That is a monster you can never feed enough – it just grows. My uncle Ronnie had been pretty successful in his life and what he had told me once was; ‘At the end of your life, the things or places you have been really doesn’t matter. It is all about your family’ and that has kind of been my philosophy - things come and go, but family is forever,” Keith says.
“Our family is going to have challenges, but I pray that through the Grace of God we remain strong and close together.”