Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 5, 2013

Unlikely marriage benefits disabled couple

ACME — Ben Dornoff was six years old when he bumped into Kelly Beck, 4, in the Acme Kmart parking lot.

They were friends from church, and Ben wanted to take it a step further. He asked Kelly to marry him. She gently turned him down, saying, “We’re too young.”

He had more luck a year ago, when he proposed again. The two tied the knot in a sunny, outdoor wedding in late July.

Ben, 23, and Kelly, 21, are cognitively impaired, making the union out of the ordinary. Ben’s mom, Becky Dornoff, said she and her husband, Mike, have adopted 19 special needs children, and she has two biological children from a previous marriage.

Ben is her first to get married. The couple’s limitations make “not interfering” a big challenge for this first-time mother-in-law.

“It’s a real learning experience,” she said, laughing.

Ben and Kelly live in a small house in Acme with Kelly’s two aunts and uncle, all who are disabled. They have a room to call their own — a tiny, cluttered upstairs living room — but want their own place someday.

Kelly said she wanted to marry before her mom died from Parkinson’s disease. Her mom didn’t make it, but before she died, she strongly encouraged Kelly to “go with her dream.”

“Mom told me to keep it like teamwork,” Kelly said.

Ben attends school two days a week and works part-time at Britten Banners as an odd-jobs guy. Kelly works at Grand Traverse Industries, packaging merchandise. The two get support from a Northern Lakes Community Mental Health caseworker, who connects them to home health care, busing, and other services. Becky said her husband helps them manage their money — a point of friction for the couple early on, she said.

Ben said marriage had made his life easier.

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