It?s shocking enough when one?s father dies, but to find out he and the one?s mother had been keeping a huge secret for decades is another.
When Newton residents Laura Franz and Sandra Rohe?s father died in 1986, they learned they had other siblings who were given up for adoption when they were young.
The two Newton residents had spent much of their lives thinking they were the only children of the late Shirley and Hank Rohe, but on the occasion of Hank?s death, they learned there were three more sisters and a brother.
?We grew up thinking I was the oldest,? said Rohe, who was born in 1960.
This, however, wasn?t so. The oldest, Michael, was born in 1956, and the oldest sister, who didn?t want her named used (she?ll be referred to as Madelyn), came into the world in 1957. Another sister, Cindy, died at the age of 18 months; she was born in 1958, and another sister, who will be called Lila, entered this life in 1959.
Franz said they were told Cindy died of a staph infection.
Michael and Madelyn were given up for adoption at ages 4 and 3. Michael went to a foster home in Las Vegas and later was adopted by a family in Fresno, Calif.
Cindy was adopted along with Madelyn, but the woman who adopted them said she wouldn?t take Michael because he and Madelyn fought so much. Franz and Rohe seemed upset about learning of this, as all the photos in their possession that were taken of Michael and Madelyn as children have them getting along and hugging.
When the first four children were born, Shirley and Hank weren?t married.
?We do not have any idea why they got married, when they got married, and why they kept us and gave the others away,? Rohe said.
Shirley and Hank wed in April 1960, and, at the time, they resided in Las Vegas. Franz and Rohe were born and raised in Vegas.
?That?s why we have a lot of unanswered questions,? Franz said, because their parents are deceased. Their mother died three years ago.
When their mom was alive, they asked her about the situation.
?She didn?t want to talk about it,? Franz said.
However, the two sisters did find out their mother was keeping in contact with the oldest sister?s adopted mother. Shirley also had kept photos of the children taken when they were young.
But, their mother had never talked to the sister ? or any of the other children who had been given up.
?I think she thought all of them would hate her,? Franz said.
They found out who some of the lost siblings were because they were named in their father?s will. This is where they learned about Cindy, Michael and Madelyn.
Then out of the blue in the late 1980s, their father?s widow (Hank and Shirley had divorced in 1977) gave them contact information about another daughter, Lila, who had been given away at birth. Shirley brought Franz and Rohe back to her hometown of Newton after the divorce.
Franz and Rohe only can speculate why their parents kept them and not the others. The sisters said their father owned a paint store in Vegas, which became successful after Franz was born in 1962, and they think their parents kept them because they then could financially support children.
So, sometime between Lila?s birth in September 1959 and their marriage in 1960, all of the adoptions must have happened, Franz said.
?It?s kinda like putting a puzzle together?that you?ll never have the answer to?because the two people that knew why are gone,? Rohe said.
Upon looking back, Rohe and Franz realized there had been clues along the way. For instance, when they were waiting to get their passports, they noticed on their birth certificates the number of live births listed was changed to a lower number. Shirley had altered the certificates to conceal the truth.
?These were totally different times, and there was a lot of guilt and a lot of remorse,? Rohe said.
During the last years of her life, Shirley was depressed. She?d watch TV shows and movies to see if she could spot Michael?s name in the credits because she knew he lived in the area where movies and shows were filmed, and that maybe he had gone into that business. He hadn?t.
Actually, Michael (who doesn?t want his last name used) joined the Navy Reserves in 1988, becoming a Navy Corpsman. He was recalled to active duty when Desert Storm started, assigned to a naval hospital at Whidbey Island, Wash.
?It was there that I gained a passion for nursing,? Michael said. ?When I returned home, I started nursing school at Utah State University. I graduated with my nursing degree in 1992. I spent the majority of my nursing career in the emergency department.?
Now, he manages the Intermountain Homecare and Hospice office in his hometown of Logan, Utah.
Michael has only met one of his biological sisters, although he?s Skyped with Laura, Sandra and Laura?s daughters. About a month ago, Lila was traveling back to Nevada with a friend, texting Michael they were planning an overnight stay in a town that was 30 miles from Logan. Michael invited her to spend the night at his home.
?It was a little scary, but our visit was so comfortable, it was as if we had know each other all of our lives,? Michael said. ?As the rest of us text, email and Skype, I get the same very comfortable and easy feeling.?
Michael found out about his four biological sisters the last weekend of July.
?I went through a lot of emotions that weekend that Laura confirmed that she was my sister and telling me ?our? story,? Michael said. ?I was a bit skeptical at first, not really wanting to divulge a lot of information due to the number of scams going on currently. But as our story unfolded, I was excited and anxious to hear more of our family.?
And Franz was especially anxious to find Michael, as well as their other siblings. She ended up looking for Michael for almost 25 years. Starting around 1990, which was before computers, Rohe and Franz approached the state agency in California that oversees adoptions. They were told in order to release information about adoptions, both parties have to be looking for each other, so they weren?t given any information.
In the late 1990s, Franz got a computer and started looking for Michael online, searching for ?Michael Joseph Rohe,? which was his birth name. However, Franz later found out Michael?s middle and last names had been changed.
In the early 2000s, Franz wrote to a TV show ?Finding Someone,? and the show wanted them to appear on it, but the other two sisters, Lila and Madelyn, didn?t want to go public with their story, mainly because their adoptive parents still are alive.
?(The show) sent me a huge packet of information because they wanted to help,? Franz said.
So, they didn?t appear on the show, which Franz said brought her down in her search. But she didn?t give up. At one point, she signed up with ancestry.com to do the family?s genealogy.
?I didn?t always go there, and I let my subscription go,? Franz said.
But, as with many companies, ancestry.com didn?t give up on Franz and sent her a reminder notice to rejoin, which she did.
She also put Michael?s name on the ?help page? on ancestry.com. Franz received an email from someone, suggesting using Michael?s current name. Franz tried to find her brother on social media sites and ended up locating him on linkedin.com.
Franz said she messaged Michael through his business profile, and he wrote back the next day.
After that, Franz said, ?I wrote him the longest email ever written.?
She also called Rohe and exclaimed, ?It?s him! It?s him!? Rohe wasn?t sure what Franz was talking about at first.
It seems there?s only one sister, Lila, who has met Franz, Rohe and Michael, as well as her biological mother, Shirley. She has yet to come face to face with Madelyn.
Franz and Rohe are excited to meet their other siblings. They had planned to have a gathering this month (October 2014) in Newton, but plans had to be changed. Now, they?re hoping to meet in June 2015 in another state. The siblings are scattered throughout the United States.
?It?s almost like a dream,? Franz said about finding Michael. ?For a long time, I didn?t know if he was alive or dead.?
But for now, there still are the lingering questions. Even Lila, when she met Shirley, tried to get information out of her with no luck. Rohe and Franz don?t understand why their mother wouldn?t talk about it, and they don?t know why family members weren?t given the chance to adopt the children.
?We?ll never know why this happened,? Rohe said.
The sisters didn?t give up hope, however, in their relentless search for their siblings. They want to share that with others.
?We wanted to go public with this, not only because it is a great story, but because it might give others hope that might be searching (for lost relatives),? Franz said.
Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent