ST. JOSEPH — A courtroom is not usually a happy place.

But it was all smiles Tuesday at the Berrien County Courthouse, where 11 children were adopted in hearings that were open to the public. The occasion was Adoption Day in Berrien County, part of Adoption Month in Michigan.

“Giving Thanks for Families” is the theme of Adoption Month, being celebrated all month by courts all around the state.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markman presided along with Berrien County Family Court Judge Jennifer Smith over two adoption hearings Tuesday morning.

“We want to highlight adoption as a very real option, and there are thousands of children around the state who need a forever home,” Markman said. “This is by far the most pleasant day for the Supreme Court. Usually in court, there are winners and there are losers. Today, we have only winning parties.”

Markman kidded that, “It’s also the noisiest day in court” as he presided over the adoption of three youngsters by their grandparents.

Nobel Cunningham, 10, Honest Cunningham, 4, and Noah Cunningham, 1, were adopted by Michael and Virginia Cunningham, their grandparents. The couple told Justice Markman and Judge Smith it was their desire to adopt the children and give them a forever home. They said they understood it to be a lifelong commitment. 

Holly Bream, adoption specialist for Berrien County Trial Court’s Family Division testified, “This is a wonderful family, and with no hesitation I recommend this adoption be approved.”

Following the formality of signing paperwork, the children were given small black robes to put on to be photographed with the judges. They also opened gifts from adoption case workers and played on the carpeted courtroom floor. 

Jonathan Krieger-Koebel, 9, was adopted by his great-grandparents, Lee and Sharon Koebel of Berrien Springs, who had been his legal guardians since 2017. 

Being questioned by the judge and justice, Jonathan told Smith his favorite subjects in school are “math, and lunch.” He told Justice Markman he feels “Great!” about the adoption.

Two other adoption hearings were held in Berrien County on Tuesday.

Judge Mabel Johnson Mayfield presided over the adoption of six siblings by two separate sets of relatives. Chloe Berry, 10, Tianna Berry, 4, and Zion Berry, 2, were adopted by Patricia Kennedy. Landon Smith-Andrade, 11, Zaidon Smith-Andrade, 8, and Keegan Smith-Andrade, 7, were adopted by Jesse and Mona Andrade.

Noah Koehler, 7 months old, was adopted by John and Michaela Koehler. 

This is the 17th Adoption Month in Michigan and was the fourth time Berrien County Trial Court has conducted adoption hearings that were open to the public. 

Contact:, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa