AP NEWS

Hastings woman connects with unknown siblings after 66 years

May 12, 2019

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) — A Hastings woman placed for adoption by her mother in war-torn Germany after World War II has overcame astronomical odds to connect with siblings she never knew existed after 66 years.

It was the end of a very long search for her late mother, Hildegard (Schoene) Bishop, when Mary Ruge of Hastings first spoke to her sister, Judy Bishop, in Elliot-Lake, Ontario, Canada, by telephone on Aug. 13, 2018.

That the conversation was very nearly disconnected before it happened is but one example of how many different puzzle pieces had to come together to make this implausible unification possible.

“It’s like winning the lottery,” Ruge told the Hastings Tribune of finding undiscovered family members. “It doesn’t happen that often.”

Ruge came to the United States in 1953 with her adoptive parents, William and LaVeta Resler (now both deceased). William was an airman in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Germany and knew of Hildegard from her duties as a cleaning lady on base.

It was Ruge’s daughter, Beth (Peters) Terry, who set the series of events in motion that climaxed in the long-awaited family reunion.

Beth conducted a search for Hildegard during a trip to Germany with her two young daughters in early August 2018. With only a maiden name and hometown for clues, she was able to track down additional information from the adoption agency — information that gave Ruge’s husband, Dwain, the lead he needed to make the improbable meeting possible.

Upon learning that Hildegard had relocated to Canada to find work shortly after placing young Mary for adoption, Dwain managed to locate Hildegard’s voter registration card from the 1970s that included an address and phone number still used by Bishop today. And with that, the bridge connecting Mary to her siblings became a reality.

“From Day 1, I knew I was adopted,” Ruge said. “My mom didn’t want to give me up, so I had nothing but love for her. My lifetime dream was to find her.

“My greatest fear was laying on my death bed and not even having a picture of her. That’s not normal. I at least wanted to know what she looked like.”

And so with cautious optimism she placed a call to the phone number found on the old voter registration card, knowing odds were slim the number would still connect to her mother. But it was the only lead she had, so she dialed and waited. Miraculously, the effort paid off.

“That was an interesting day,” Bishop said. “What’s funny is that if I don’t recognize the phone number, I don’t pick up. A friend had invited me for coffee that night, and I said, ‘No, I’ll stay home.’ I had no idea why.

“That year I was going to change my parents’ old phone number, and something told me to hold onto it. When Mary called, she said, ‘I’m, Mary and I’m looking for Hildegard Schoene.’ My response was, ‘Oh my God, I’ve waited for this call for years!’ I called the rest of the family and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this...’ We all knew about Mary.”

Hildegard married Abraham Bishop of Canada in 1959. They had four children: Judy, Robert, Shirley, and Barry. The children learned from their mother they had a sibling, Mary, whom she reluctantly put up for adoption as a young, unwed mother. They also learned the had another older sister, Gudrun.

Judy had the opportunity to met Gudrun — who was raised by her grandmother — before Gudrun’s death in 1994, but was unable to locate Mary when she and Shirley attempted to locate her. With not even a last name to go by, odds seemed impossible they would ever connect.

Ruge previously had conducted a pre-Internet search for her mother in vain. A friend from work had attempted to locate information for her during a visit to Germany in 2000-01, but follow-up communications proved difficult and unfruitful.

Their recent unification fulfills a longing for familial ties that had pulled at Ruge and her siblings their entire lives. After meeting them all through Skype and exchanging family photographs — including images of Hildegard, who died in 2004 — Mary and Judy met in person for the first time on April 26 at the airport in Lincoln.

″(It was) instant love!” Mary said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s like we’ve known each other forever.

“I’m still kind of in shock and on a high with it. The only blood I had around for 66 years were my three kids and grandkids.”

Judy has since met several members of the family and will soon join in an extended family gathering at Valentino’s restaurant. Mary and Dwain will travel to Elliot-Lake in July to visit all of Mary’s siblings and their extended families.

“The family is thrilled to death,” Bishop said. “Shirley had to work, but she’s been calling us every day to see how we’re doing. What are the odds?”

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com