SANTA ROSA BEACH — In 1956, Mary Ann Hobbs Whitney was living in California when she separated from her husband and had two toddlers to support.
Then she found herself pregnant again.
Whitney called the number the father had given her to his home on the east coast. The woman who answered the phone told her that if she knew what was good for her, she would never dial the number again.
Hoping for reconciliation with her estranged husband, Whitney took her two toddlers and went to stay with a relative. She knew that a baby by another man might hamper any reunion with her husband. Then Whitney learned that the relative’s next-door neighbors had tried unsuccessfully for years to conceive and might be interested in taking the yet-to-be-born baby.
As a testament to her predicament and maternal instincts, when Whitney gave the baby to the neighbors, she also gave them a note stating that she was giving the child up into their care until such time as she could care for the baby herself.
The couple who took the baby boy were delighted and named him Ronald Friesen.
Friesen grew up knowing of his adoption, but his home was stable and happy. He never felt the need or urge to search for his biological parents. He still didn’t when his wife of more than 30 years gave him a 23andMe personal genomics DNA kit for Christmas last year. Out of curiosity, she and their daughter had tried to search online for any leads, but those efforts had proved unsuccessful.
“I thought it might be fun to finally find out if he is German or what,” said Colleen Friesen.
Ron took the test and sent it off. Results arrived in the spring and he discovered that he is mostly British.
Every month or so emails arrived from the company. One that arrived in March asked if he would like to know who he was related to. At Colleen’s urging, Friesen clicked “yes” and the name of a woman by the name of Sidney showed up as his niece on his biological mother’s side.
Afraid of upsetting apple carts, Ron hesitated in reaching out to Sidney.
Colleen, however, was not as reticent and with Ron’s OK, she contacted Sidney.
She discovered that Sidney is Ron’s biological half-sister’s daughter and she was very excited to hear that she was discovering a never-before-known-about uncle. Sidney gave him contact info for her mom and aunt and uncles.
“When I heard, I thought, ‘OK, I would believe that about dad,’ but, when I found out it was mom, I was shocked,” said older sister Peggy, who lives in Salt Lake City.
Older brother Guy, who lives in California, was a little skeptical and asked Ron if he had any documents or anything with his mother’s handwriting on it as she had a very distinctive handwriting. Ron did. His adoptive mother had given him the note Margaret wrote when she handed him over. Ron faxed the note to Guy who recognized the writing immediately and knew it had to be true.
Guy took the 23andMe test in April and when he got his results back, he immediately clicked on the option to see who he is related to. Ron popped up first as extremely confident that he was Guy’s half brother on his mother’s side.
Emails and phone calls followed, with the newfound siblings talking for hours.
Friesen was told that his biological mother did reconcile with her estranged husband, and they had two more children before splitting for good after 10 years. Neither the husband or any of the children knew Ron existed. Peggy was 2-1/2 and Guy was 1-1/2 when Ron was born.
“It’s pretty amazing to have no siblings then you have four. And he’s no longer the oldest child,” said Colleen.
Peggy and Guy, along with younger sister Stephanie, flew to Florida to visit their brother and his family last week, and he showed them his home in paradise.
While here, Friesen took his siblings fishing and they hit several restaurants in town.
“I had a whole schedule of things to do,” he said. “We got up early and stayed up late and they spent time with my kids and grandkids.”
The siblings spent the week getting to know each other and comparing notes, filling in missing pieces of the puzzle for each other.
Friesen found that oldest sister Peggy is the organizer of all and the one in charge.
His brother Guy is a jokester and the peacemaker between his sisters.
“And that one could be trouble,” said Ron, as he pointed at Stephanie as they sat outside at AJ’s in Destin. “Stephanie is a spitfire and does not meet a stranger.”
“He looks more like mom than any of us,” said Peggy, as the others nodded agreement.
While some who are given up for adoption might be angry, Friesen is not.
“I was stable, but my brothers and sisters moved around a lot. They had a much tougher time,” said Friesen. “My adoptive mother made me feel special. I feel I was given the aces in the deck. I had a solid upbringing. My mom and dad were older. It was a special upbringing.”
Margaret moved around and lived in several different towns, but when she retired, interestingly Friesen learned from his siblings that she retired in the town where she had given him up. But Friesen had already moved on.
Peggy is an artist, and in anticipation of coming to Florida to meet her newly-found brother, she drew a sketch of their mother, and drew all five of her children under her with Ron added in his place of birth order.
“She put the whole family back together,” said Friesen.
In the spring he plans to go the West Coast to visit them and to meet his younger brother.
“I think we will probably continue to get together once or twice a year,” he said. “My grandson asked me which one is your favorite? I had to answer that they were all different and they all brought something different into my life. I thank them all for letting me see a piece of my birth mother. What I take away from this is our moms are up in heaven and planned this at just the right time.”