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Reunited by chance: Mom and son reconnect after 50 years

Angela Cooper-McCorkle photo

Betty Rohner of unincorporated Snohomish County and her long-lost son Kenneth Busenbark of Florida have been ecstatic to meet each other for the first time in 50 years. He was adopted to another family as an infant. His week-long visit included decades of catching up to do.

SNOHOMISH — It was the joyful end of 50 years apart.
Betty Rohner and the newborn boy she’d been pressured into giving up for adoption were meeting for the first time.
For Rohner, it was the end of 50 years of waiting, of hopes raised and dashed, and of daily longing.
For the son she named Joseph Paul, whose adoptive parents named Kenneth Busenbark, it was the end of 50 years of disconnect, of unanswerable questions, and
of alienation.
The two never thought they’d meet after so many decades. But a chance conversation three months before and nearly 3,000 miles away solved the mystery of half a century in one night.
“Screw it, I’ll ride with you,” Busenbark remembered saying to Sergeant Felicia Sanders. The Air Force recruiters stationed at Elgin Air Force Base in northwest Florida had a 13-hour round trip drive to their annual recruiting conference in Orlando and decided to carpool at the last minute.
The long drive led to long talks. The topic of family came naturally to Sanders, who had an interest in genealogy.
By the end of the trip, Busenbark had opened up about being adopted and Sanders had made a life-altering offer; She would use her research skills to try and track down his birth mother.
Rohner wanted to be tracked down. She gave birth right after her 18th birthday in 1968, a time when an unmarried mother often became a stigmatized, marginalized woman.
She remembered her stay in a locked home for unwed mothers where only family was allowed to visit and the pressure to adopt out her baby was immense.
“I was hidden away,” said Rohner, who wants to raise awareness of that history among younger women.
Rohner went on to earn a degree, marry and move cross-country. But she always cherished the memory of her baby boy, marking his Jan. 20 birthday on calendars every year afterward and trying to learn about him many times.
Twice over the years she hired agencies to track down her son, and at other times left her information in databases, scouring them for information. But every attempt was fruitless.
Finally, last year, Rohner felt she needed to let go: she created a ritual with a friend and turned over the loss to the universe.
Not long after, the extraordinary happened.
“She messaged me Friday evening on the instant messenger Facebook,” Rohner said. It was Nov. 10 and a Felicia Sanders wanted to know if she had given up a boy whose details looked familiar.
“I didn’t reply. It’s very emotional, and I wondered, ‘is it a scam,’” Rohner said.
But the next day came a phone call with a message to match the one on Facebook.
After talking to her sister who cautioned her to just not give out a credit card number, Rohner called, and the universe answered in Sanders’ voice.
Sanders had found a 2006 post of Rohner’s on an adoption registry site, the type of cliché needle in a haystack find that justifies the saying.
When the two women finally spoke that night and Sanders said the man she was asking for thought he was Italian, the tears finally came.
“I knew that Friday he was my son,” Rohner said.
Pictures followed and so did a DNA test that showed an unmistakable mother-son match.
“It was 99.99999996” percent, Rohner said.
Daily calls commenced and then plans for the flight that would bring Busenbark from his busy Niceville, Florida life to a whirlwind Washington visit two weeks ago.
In another coincidence, Busenbark ended up seated next to another adopted woman who insisted on staying with him to see the reunion. She cried while others drawn to the amazing meeting took pictures for them Busenbark recalled.
From there everything unfolded naturally.
The two soon threw out Rohner’s packed itinerary in favor of more time on the couch to just catch up, though she did sit Busenbark down with family and friends and fit in a few favorite sights and meals. A mother has to spoil her son after all, and show him off.
And that’s not to mention Facebook: “I had 23 friends on Facebook, now it’s boom, boom, boom, mom- I’m overwhelmed now boom,” Busenbark laughed. “It’s just weird,” he said repeatedly, an understatement for what he considers a most amazing 50th birthday present: his birth mother.
They’ve started catching up on a lifetime of experiences not to mention valuable medical history.
“He used to go camping in Lake George, New York, I used to go to Lake George, who knows how many times we were like this (close),” Rohner says.
And they have some geography in common too: many of Busenbark’s adopted family live in the Northwest including relatives in Spanaway and Port Angeles, not to mention his parents, who used to live in Yakima Valley.
Busenbark has grown an entire new extended family virtually overnight while Rohner has added a fully grown 33-year-old grandson to the two tiny preschool aged granddaughters she started with.
Both mother and son strongly encourage anyone involved in adoption to leave records on adoption registries and to feel comfortable seeking those family members. Busenbark has now begun helping one of his two sisters, who was also adopted, seek her birth family.
A summer visit is already being planned and Rohner hopes for a bigger family reunion then.
For now, both are delighted that all the questions are being answered and the empty spots filled.
He wanted to know if I ever thought of him,” Rohner said, looking at her son with a timeless motherly tenderness. “I thought of you always.”


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