Merced Mission helps reunite man, niece after 33 years

cwinterfeldt@mercedsunstar.comJune 30, 2013 

— Martin Rose, program director for Merced County Rescue Mission, had been searching since February — until almost five months later, he received the call he'd been waiting for.

"My name is John Hanehan, and I'd like to know why you have a wanted poster for me?" the gruff voice on the phone said.

Hanehan, a 58-year-old homeless man who lives off Social Security income, has been staying with his girlfriend at a motel in Merced. He was told by an acquaintance, Mike Heredia, 36, who visits the Rescue Mission, that there was a flier with a $50 reward. The flier was posted around town for anyone with information on Hanehan's whereabouts.

"I recognized the hat he was wearing," Heredia said, referring to the baseball cap Hanehan wears that's emblazoned with the Stars and Stripes.

"A wanted poster? It's not quite like that," Rose said.

"What is it like?" Hanehan replied.

"Well, actually, you have a niece looking for you," Rose explained. Moments later, they both said in unison the name "Cheryl" — and it got quiet.

Hanehan, who originally hails from Sunnyvale, was reunited with his niece, Cheryl Mimm, 47, of Pah-rump, Nev., last Saturday at the Rescue Mission. Mimm hadn't seen her uncle in 33 years — and had been searching for him during the past 15. The reunion was brought to fruition after Mimm came across her uncle's photo on the Sun-Star's website.

During her childhood, Mimm kept in touch with her "Uncle Johnny."

"He was always loving and caring in the best way he could be, and never judgmental," Mimm recalled, hours before being reunited with her uncle for the first time since she was 14 years old.

After her grandmother, Hanehan's mother, died in Phoenix, Ariz., it "made him just not care." Mimm said certain family members didn't agree with the hard life her uncle was living and told him not to call anymore.

Hanehan disappeared from Mimm's family, and a search lasting more than a decade eventually would ensue.

"I always just wanted to let him know that somebody loved him and cared about him. I just never wanted him to think nobody cared," Mimm said, while anticipating the reunion last Saturday at the Rescue Mission in Merced.

The breakthrough in the search happened after Mimm looked up her uncle's name via Google last February.

A picture of her uncle attending a Thanksgiving meal at the Merced Rescue Mission, taken by photographer Bea Ahbeck Casson, was posted on the Sun-Star website.

"I still have that page saved on my phone," said Mimm, "so I could keep looking at it until we found him."

Mimm got in touch with Rose from the Rescue Mission.

Rose told her "I don't know if I can find him, but I do give you my word — I will search," he said. He looked around, driving Merced's streets, asking anyone with a long gray beard if his name was John.

Months later, Rose received the call from Hanehan — and the search was over.

The sequence of events culminated with the reunion in front of the Rescue Mission. John made his way out of a van, helped by his girlfriend, Brenda Babb. John's arms stretched out for a long-overdue embrace with his niece.

Mimm thanked Rose and the Rescue Mission for helping her find her uncle.

"Now that I found him, he's never disappearing again," Mimm said with a smile and tears of joy streaming from her eyes.

"We're gonna do phone calls. We're gonna do whatever it takes," said Hanehan about how they would keep in touch."You don't give up on family — you just don't.

"When it's all done and said, you go and you hug 'em, and you tell them that you love 'em. That's the final answer to just being a human being."

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