Tue, July 23

Siblings reunited after decades apart
Family's first reunion held in Wisconsin campground

It was a huge family reunion. Seven siblings -- two brothers and five sisters -- with about 40 spouses, children and grandchildren.

It was big but not unusual. Reunions of large, close-knit families tend to grow very big.

But this one stands out because little more than a year ago most of Loretta Grondin's 10 siblings didn't even know each other existed.

Living now in Cornville with her husband, Dave, and having four grown children, Loretta was born 56 years ago in Michigan, where she lived the first four months of her life in an orphanage. She was adopted and lived happily on a farm with her adopted parents and an adopted sister.

When she was 10, Loretta began asking questions about being adopted. Years later, in 1982 she began to write many letters in search of her identity. But she knew the odds of ever meeting her birth mother were almost nonexistent because Michigan law prohibited any connection between birth parent and child.

After 21 years of searching, Loretta hired a detective who soon told her that her birth mother had died more than a year earlier. A couple more years went by before a lucky break put her in contact with a brother she didn't know she had. They soon learned they had five sisters who had been raised by their birth mother.

More research turned up two more brothers and another sister. Five of the 10 siblings had been put up for adoption. None of the five adopted siblings knew they had brothers or sisters. The five sisters raised by their birth mother didn't know about the five that had been adopted.

That all came to light last summer -- 23 years after Loretta began searching for her family.

Now Loretta and three of her four children have returned from a first-ever-family reunion.

"It was absolutely the most incredible experience," Loretta said. Three siblings couldn't make it, but she has already met them and continues to correspond.

The family rented nine cabins in a Jellystone Park Campground in Oak Creek, Wisc. At the reunion, Loretta met four new sisters.

She said some of her sisters thought such a reunion would result in people dividing into small groups. "It wasn't like that," Loretta said. "It was an instantaneous family."

The highpoint of the trip was the bon fires. "We had them every night," she said.

The youngest child was 2 months old. "That was our mother's great grandchild," Loretta said. Loretta was the oldest sibling. She said all age groups from adults to teens to toddlers were present. Two couples at the reunion are engaged to be married.

During the first night's campfire the family talked mostly about how they had all connected after all these years. The next night was more relaxed and the kids were all becoming comfortable with each other.

Each morning of the reunion the siblings all went for walks together. Loretta said they simply couldn't get enough of each other. "You missed your entire childhood together," she said. "You just wanted to do sibling things."

Loretta said that she stayed up until at least 2 a.m. each night. "I was afraid I'd miss a story," she said.

Loretta regrets missing so much time with her family. "But things happen when they're supposed to," she said.

The siblings all wore identical T-shirts with the slogan, "The Circle Completed." The five sisters raised by their birth mother gave each of their newly found siblings a porcelain doll from their mother's collection.

The family also gathered at the site of their mother's ashes to hold a memorial service for her. Loretta and her siblings also got to see videos of their mother -- to see and hear her talking and laughing. "We were spellbound by it," she said.

Loretta said she learned all kinds of things about her mother, such as her favorite flowers and favorite smells. "Now I know why I like lilacs," she said.

"This has fulfilled a need in me to be part of a family," Loretta said.

During the 23-year search there were times when Loretta almost gave up. But she is grateful that she didn't. The family has already made a deposit on a 15-room house at the Outer Banks of North Carolina for next May. Then the family plans to come to Arizona.

When asked what all of this means to her, Loretta smiles and nods her head. "I see this whole thing as a gift from God."