Denise McCarthy was in her mother's care for about six weeks prior to being given up for adoption.
Maggie Glick was an unmarried 19 year old who believed that she wasn't in an ideal position to give her daughter the life she wanted. So, she decided to place Denise with people who would love and take care of her for the rest of her life.
Fifty-two years later, Denise finally decided to get to the bottom of her mother’s legacy. With health issues making mortality an ever-present threat, the Columbus woman wanted to look up her birth mother’s family to see if there were any hereditary problems that had been passed down through that side of the family.
“I thought, you know, it might be kind of nice to learn more (about my birth mother),” McCarthy said. “Our son and daughter-in-law did Ancestry.com over Christmas for fun, and a gal popped up that we didn’t recognize the name of.”
That person ended up being Ronda Stumpf of Cheyenne, Wyoming - McCarthy’s half-sister. From there, she learned of a second half-sister, Deanna Johnson, of McCook.
After a month of chatting on Facebook, the three decided to meet up on May 11 - Mother's Day weekend - in McCook at Johnson’s residence. The meeting was the first time the three ever met in person.
McCarthy was adopted by Dwaine and Marlene Jacobson of Columbus, but her birth mother remained a mystery until this March. That’s when she made her first login to Ancestry.com, the company that uses DNA information to educate people about their family lineage.
From there, she was able to connect the dots from what her son previously found and made her first contact with Stumpf.
“I sent her a message and she came back with, ‘OMG, you found us! I’m your half-sister,’” McCarthy said. “They had been looking for me.”
Stumpf eventually informed her that she had another half-sister, Johnson.
“I was ecstatic,” Stumpf said. “I was so happy that I couldn’t work the rest of the day. I was in tears. I was happy, I was giddy. Then my first thought was (that) I needed to get in touch with my sister.”
After informing Johnson, the three created a Facebook Messenger Group that allowed them to get to know each other.
“For about a month, we conversed back and forth (and) shared different things,” McCarthy said. “We found we had so much in common. They were sharing some pictures of my birth mother and pictures of them through Messenger, and I could really see the resemblance of me in them.”
The three of them talked about their families and about their mother, while also finding time to have a little fun at each other’s expense.
“We kind of considered ourselves the "The Brady Bunch" girls,” Stumpf said. “We would send memes and gifs, we would talk about what we did, we would talk about Mom and we would talk about everything. Every little thing we did at work, everything.”
After more than a month of getting to know one another via Facebook, the three decided to meet at last. Johnson’s home in McCook ended up being the destination for the meeting, as Stumpf and Johnson typically meet up every Mother’s Day weekend to catch up. This time, they were joined by the half-sister they were meeting for the first time.
Stumpf was anxious to finally see McCarthy in person.
“I was very excited,” Stumpf said. “Good thing there was cruise control on the vehicle because I wanted to go faster. In between North Platte and McCook, I was like, ‘This is just too slow.’ But I knew better (than to speed).”
After plenty of hugs and tears on Johnson’s front yard, they went back inside and talked about their lives, this time face to face. McCarthy made t-shirts for the occasion that said “Big Sister,” “Middle Sister,” and “Little Sister”. They also received lockets with their initials and the day they first met engraved on it.
McCarthy said she found the experience to be even more gratifying and fulfilling than she originally expected.
“It’s just indescribable,” McCarthy said. “We were so excited. We hugged, we cried, there were all sorts of emotions going on. We met their spouses. I got to meet my nieces and nephews.”
Stumpf regrets not being able to do something like this when her mother was still alive. Maggie died in 2013.
“I wish it would’ve (happened) when my mom was still around,” Stumpf said. “I know Mom tried to look for her, but back then, it was a lot harder to have Ancestry.com and all that stuff. Mom was with us when I started Ancestry.com and she would ask if we had found her. I think she knew that eventually, we would find her."
Plans are already underway for a second meeting over the Memorial Day weekend in Hastings at a softball tournament where Johnson’s children will be playing. McCarthy did not bring her children to the first meeting, but she plans to do so this time around.
“We’re going to try to get my kids and their families over there so they can meet one aunt and a few cousins,” McCarthy said. “We do plan on trying to get together as often as we can. We’ve got a lot to catch up on. We’ve got to get together.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for the Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.