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Eighty-Two-Year-Old Surprise

October 11, 2010, 10:04 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Eighty-Two-Year-Old Surprise
JAVA, SD - Even with family it can be hard to keep in touch. But can you imagine getting in touch with a brother or sister for the first time ever at 82 years old?

A Java man can tell you exactly what that's like. LaVern Gill was adopted as a baby and knew very little about his heritage, until this year that is. The 82-year-old is just getting to know family he didn’t even know existed.

"Well, it was a good feeling," Gill said.

Gill grew up in north central South Dakota. His parents adopted him when he was five days old and told him about the adoption early in his life.

"So I knew all along but I never wanted to know where my birth parents were, never tried to find out because my parents were real good to us and I thought there'd probably be hard feelings if I bring something up that I wanted to find out," Gill said.

So aside from knowing he'd been dropped off at an orphanage in Sioux Falls, he knew very little.

"Why was I put in an orphanage? Who put me in there? I sometimes thought, maybe my mother took one look at me and thought he was too ugly, threw me away," Gill said while laughing.

But in the last few years he started having questions and for medical reasons wanted to know about his bloodline.

First a judge had to unseal his adoption records, which happened. But his family couldn't read his parent's names on the birth certificate.

They went to a friend for help who has experience tracing genealogy. She visited an ancestry website and looked at census information. From there, she figured out Gill's biological mother and father's names.

After hours of searching, she called Gill's daughter, Judy Grenz.

"'I think I just hit the jackpot,' she said. She found the obituary for dad's mother and her husband at the time and she said, ‘your dad has a sister,’" Grenz said.

Grenz and her sisters went to work tracking down that sister and eventually contacted one of her sons, using a landline number that had already been disconnected. But for some reason it went through anyway.

"Everybody said, 'that's a little weird,’ but we all say 'no that's not weird that's a God thing' because there's no reason we should have gotten a hold of the family through that telephone number," Grenz said.

Gill's other daughter Glenda Eisenbeisz was the one who told her dad. By that time, not only had they tracked down a half-sister he didn't even know about, that sister had agreed to meet him.

"And the look on his face was just priceless. He backed up and Mom backed up and his eyes just kind of filled. It was just the neatest thing. And I wish all my siblings could have been here to see that look because it was absolutely one of the most precious things of my life," Eisenbeisz said.

And the meeting that followed was a very precious moment in her father's life too.

"She had told her kids before, she always told her mom I'd like a big brother,” Gill said.

And they had a lot of catching up to do with stories and pictures to compare. Gill’s already large family just got bigger.

But that sudden growth all came from his mother's side of the family. Tuesday, he gets to meet even more relatives.

"Talked to him on the phone several times," Gill said.

He’s talking about his brother who lives in Oregon and will fly in Tuesday. The same friend who found Gill’s mother and father's names, also helped track down his father's living family members.

Grenz found a son of her dad's half-brother on Facebook and contacted him.

"He said, ‘what can I do for you?’ And I said, ‘well are you sitting down?’ And he said, ‘well actually I am.’ And I said, 'well, how strong is your heart?’ And he said, ‘well pretty strong but now I'm curious,’" Grenz said.

And just like that, Gill will be spending more than a week at his home with a new brother.

"He didn't know anything about it. I'm the only one that had any history on this. Everything was kept quiet," Gill said.

But now some answers are coming out, while there are others he'll never know.

"I guess we don't know the real reason for it, why. But it was the depression years. I imagine a young woman like that done the best she could," Gill said.

But he ended up in a good home he says and in a place he loves, suddenly less alone than he's ever been.

Gill also has a half-sister on his father's side. He hasn't met her yet but has talked with her on the phone.

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