Separated 65 years ago, brother and sister finally reunite
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Port O'Connor resident Stephen Bentley learned to truly appreciate the greeting, "Hi" in February.
It is a word he has used since he learned to talk, and as a sales representative for Killebrew Dodge, it is a word he uses on a daily basis with potential customers.
However, the common greeting became even more so poignant when he got the opportunity to say it to his long-lost sister the first time they met in person, after 65 years of being separated.
Born 13 months apart, Bentley, 66, and his sister, Norma Mae McBroom, 65, were given up to different family members shortly after McBroom was born.
The siblings were reunited at noon on Feb. 12 in a meeting room at the Riverside Resort Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, Nev.
"The first thing I said to her was, 'Hi Mae,'" Bentley said with a slight quiver in his voice. "It was a good visit for us."
Born in Montgomery County, Ill., as John Hollers Jr. and Judith Hollers, Bentley and McBroom were sent by their biological mother, Edna Schieffer, to live with other family members soon after she divorced the children's biological father, who was in prison, in 1947.
Bentley was sent to live with Schieffer's sister, Virginia, in Long Beach, Calif., while McBroom was sent to live with her great-aunt and uncle in Taylor Springs, Ill.
"The war was just coming to an end. At the time, things were pretty tough for everybody," said Bentley, as he speculated his mother's reasons for giving up her children. "Knowing she was going through a divorce, she probably thought it would be better if her sister raised me."
Raised by his aunt, Virginia, a housewife, and her husband, Kenneth, a restaurateur, Bentley said he grew up with what he believed to be his sister and brother in a middle class household filled with love.
It was not until he turned 15 that he received the first hint that everything was not exactly as it seemed.
While at a family reunion, a woman who he did not know walked up to him and said, "Do you know that that's not your real mom? Do you know that you were adopted?"
She walked off without further explanation, said Bentley.
Unwilling to bring the issue up to his parents, Bentley buried the information in the back of his mind.
"I just went along with the program," he said. "I kind of figured things would fall in place."
Meanwhile, McBroom was only 11 when she learned the truth about her biological mother from her adoptive father.
McBroom's adoptive father raised her alone after her adoptive mother died when McBroom was 4 years old.
With her father working the graveyard shift and barely making ends meet, life was not easy for McBroom, who had few material possessions, was often left alone and, eventually, dropped out of high school.
Although she was also interested in finding Schieffer, she decided not to push the issue.
"It really hurt my Dad, so I left it alone," she said.
She was not totally disconnected from her biological mother, though.
McBroom would occasionally spend time with one of Schieffer's other sisters who still lived in Taylor Springs.
From this relationship, she was able to learn some details about her mother, including her whereabouts.
As the years passed, both McBroom and Bentley learned about other family members, but not about one another.
To his surprise, Bentley even discovered that not only had he never been legally adopted because his biological father would not allow the legal name change sought by the Bentleys, but also that his biological mother had in fact been a part of his life all along.
The woman he knew to be his Aunt Edna and the five children who looked strikingly similar to him turned out to be Schieffer and his half-siblings.
"She was an aunt. She was very nice and fun to be with," said Bentley. "She reminded me of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies - full of spunk."
In 2003, the wheels were set in motion to reunite Bentley and McBroom.
McBroom, who is a retired casino waitress, began receiving a series of phone calls from an unfamiliar phone number in Salisbury, Md., all of which she ignored.
After deciding to pick up the phone one day, she learned the caller was Jerry, one of her half-sisters.
The phone call led to a phone conversation between McBroom and Schieffer as well as plans for a family reunion to take place later that year.
During the reunion, which Bentley chose not to attend, McBroom met her 70-something mother for the first time in person since she had been given up for adoption.
Schieffer died two years later.
After the reunion, family members declined to provide McBroom with Bentley's contact information, instead opting to let him call McBroom on his own accord.
It was not until seven years later that Bentley decided it was time to make that move.
He got his sister's contact information from a family member and mailed her a cell telephone.
The two have talked almost every day since then.
However, they did not take the leap toward an in-person meeting until February.
"It seemed like an hour, but it was only about three or four minutes," Bentley said about their initial embrace. "We were very emotional. These things are hard to do sometimes."
The siblings along with Bentley's wife, Lydia, spent nearly a week bonding with each other.
"I told him 'me and you should have at least one fight because that's what brothers and sisters do,'" McBroom chuckled.
Both siblings remain grateful to be reunited.
"I'm not by myself," said McBroom, who has no living, immediate family members other than Bentley and her half-siblings. "I thank God for giving me this time in my life to have met my brother."
Bentley said, "We can't make up for lost time, but we can enjoy the time we have now."
Although they have found one another, the search for family members is not over for the brother and sister.
The two plan to try and locate family members of their biological father, who they think died in prison.
"There are a lot of families in the same situation," said Bentley. "Hopefully, they read this and decide it's time to go forth and reconnect with a family member, too."