Jeff Jardine

Sister at brother's wedding despite 45-year separation

Laurie Mitchell of Boston, center, with her new sister-in-law, Bobbie Young, and her long-lost brother, Kevin Young,  both of Modesto.
Laurie Mitchell of Boston, center, with her new sister-in-law, Bobbie Young, and her long-lost brother, Kevin Young, both of Modesto. Modesto Bee

When Laurie Mitchell arrived in Modesto from Massachusetts nine days ago, her kid brother and his fiancée decided to surprise her.

They would get married during her two-week visit.

"Tears ensued," said the 56-year-old Boston resident.

Kevin Young and Bobbie Jantz exchanged vows during a ceremony Friday night in the wedding garden behind Janet's Flowers in downtown Modesto.

But that was only the second-biggest pleasant shock Mitchell received from the valley. The first happened nearly three years ago, when she got a phone call from Modesto resident Ronda Slater.

"Their friend made contact for them and asked me a few questions, and right away I knew what is was," Mitchell said. "I said, 'You know my brother Kevin!' "

Yes, the brother she hadn't seen in nearly 45 years -- the brother who supposedly died as a baby -- was indeed, alive, breathing and everything.

Later that day, Mitchell and Young spent three hours talking on the phone. Two days later, she stepped off a plane at Oakland International Airport, where Young works as an operations supervisor. She hugged her "baby" brother for the first time since he was 4 months old.

Mitchell and Young, 48, were among the four children born to Kathleen Jean Smith, a woman who lived in the Bay Area for many years before moving to Boston. She died there in 1999, revealing little about her past and why she had given her children up for adoption.

"She took all of her secrets with her," Mitchell said.

That left her children to do their own detective work, and from opposite ends of the continent.

Smith and Mitchell's father were divorced and Young had a different father. Mitchell was 7 years old and Young 4 months old when he simply ceased to be at their home anymore. Mitchell remembers some tension at the time, but not many particulars.

"I remember there was a traumatic scene -- the point where she was leaving Kevin at this place ... a day care ... I'm not sure," Mitchell said.

Soon thereafter, Smith gave Mitchell up for adoption, too.

"I was given to a family in San Diego," she said. But they didn't have the paperwork in order when the adoptive father, a military man, received orders to go overseas. So Mitchell couldn't go with them. Instead, she lived several years with her biological father, who had remarried and was angry when he learned Smith had given his daughter away.

When she was 15, Mitchell reunited with her mom and asked Smith what had happened to baby brother Kevin?

"She said, 'He died, and don't ever bring it up again,' " Mitchell said.

Mitchell didn't buy it. As an adult, she periodically looked for Kevin, searching under his birth surname of Pare. She checked cemeteries in Alameda County, where they lived until they were separated, and came up empty, which bolstered her belief he was alive.

Young, though, had taken his adoptive family's surname, and she was never able to track him down.

Meanwhile, Jantz and Young had been together for a couple of years. He longed to understand more about his past.

"I'd go to the doctor and they'd ask if I had any history of heart disease, and I'd have to say, 'I have no idea,' " Young said.

His fiancée became determined to find Mitchell, and did so with the help of her friend, Slater.

"She can get information out of anybody," said Jantz, who became Bobbie Young on Friday night.

When they learned Smith had died, "she got the clerk in Massachusetts to read the entire death certificate," Bobbie Young said. That information led them to Mitchell, who cared for Smith until her death.

Hence, the phone call between Mitchell and Young, and their first reunion.

"Two days after we made phone contact, she was on a plane out here," Kevin Young said. "She brought a box filled with pictures. It was so nice to see people who looked like me."

They learned that as adults, they'd lived no more than a few minutes apart on two occasions before Mitchell moved to Boston in 1997.

"She lived in Livermore when I lived in Fremont, and I lived in Oakley when she lived in Pittsburg," Young said. "We were a stone's throw away from each other all that time."

They also found a sister in Kansas, but haven't been able to contact her, as well as a brother in Minnesota who doesn't want to reconnect.

No matter. Mitchell and Young are thrilled to be reunited after nearly five decades, thrilled to be brother and sister again.

"I always knew he was alive," Mitchell said.

Being there Friday night to hear him say "I do" pretty much confirms it.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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