Bonnie Spaulding, John Winningham and Linda Freeman, biological mother, son and daughter, were reunited after 49 years after Winningham was adopted at birth in Washington. Winningham, who has lived on the Kenai Peninsula since age 27, decided the time was right to track down his biological heritage approximately one year ago.
Photo courtesy of Linda Freeman
Funny River resident John Winningham is nearly 50 years old and had never enjoyed a Christmas dinner with his biological family until this year.
Winningham was born in Washington in 1955 and adopted soon after by the daughter of registered nurse Ruth Neimi at the hospital of his birth. He grew up with loving adoptive parents and three adopted sisters, he said. He has known since his youth he was adopted, and about a year ago he got serious about finding his roots.
"I had a feeling it was time to look," he said. "I just didn't know how to go about it."
Winningham called the Washington Public Health Department and was told he'd need the help of a confidential intermediary, someone to serve as a go-between in making contacts and releasing sensitive documents, according to the Montana Standard, the newspaper in Butte, Mont. Winningham chose Rita Zastrow because she lived closest to his adoptive grandmother, Ruth Neimi, and birthplace in Washington.
"I went through the Internet and found a confidential intermediary to go through all the legal documents. Once I knew what I was doing, it got much easier. It only took about two months until I found my mother in Montana. I got a hold of her on my 49th birthday," Winningham said.
Zastrow also found Winningham's biological sister, Linda Freeman, living just 50 miles from his adoptive grandmother.
Unknown to Winningham, his sister in Shelton, Wash., had been searching long and hard for him.
"About seven years ago, I started looking for John but had nothing to go on. I had no birth year because my mom was so traumatized she blocked out a lot of it, and, of course, I didn't have a name," Freeman said.
After all those years, she decided there was nothing more she could do.
"I knew I was getting closer to finally meeting my brother. I kept saying to myself, 'I have a brother somewhere out there, and he could be looking for us.' All this time I had this feeling in my heart that was getting stronger and stronger. I decided to put this in God's hands," Freeman said.
She said it was immediately after telling her mother she was putting the task to a higher power that she looked out her window and saw a note on the screen door from the intermediary who was trying to get in touch with Bonnie Spaulding, her and Winningham's mother.
"When I spoke with Zastrow on the phone later, I asked her if this was about my brother. There was a pause, and then I knew that it was. She told me my mother had to agree and sign some papers, so I called my mother and told her that her son has found us. I said no matter how you feel, you've got to meet him.
"It was a big relief for my mom. She didn't really even want to talk about it all these years, but now she is happy as a lark," Freeman said.
Freeman and her brother met face to face when he traveled to Washington from Funny River, where he works as a gillnet drift fisher.
"When I first saw my sister, I looked in her eyes, and it was like we had always known each other," Winningham said. Later he met his mother, Spaulding, and had their nearly 50-year reunion surrounded by a cheering crowd.
"I felt an instant connection with Bonnie," he said.
Winningham also gained a brother who lives in Crescent City, Calif.
Before meeting, Bill Goldsmith, the biological brother, said he was looking forward to Christmas dinner with his newly realized brother.
"We talked on the phone several times and I met him once. We had a moose dinner, which was absolutely killer. I had a great time. ... I do know that we both like to hunt and fish. I don't think we look a whole lot alike because I have more hair than he does," Goldsmith laughed.
He said the most exciting part about meeting his brother was the anticipation.
"I wish I would have gotten to know him sooner because he turned out to be a really cool guy. His grandma is also another added plus. She's 89 years old and goes digging for clams all the time. She's awesome," Goldsmith said.
Freeman said she has learned something about herself through the experience.
"I'm a really strong, good, loving, caring person, just like my brother. I picture us being close in the future. This has been just awesome. The path was opened, and it all happened for a reason. That's what John always says. Everything happens for a reason. It is amazing because it happened that same day, that very same moment. It makes you believe in the Lord," Freeman said.
This Christmas was a special first for the reunited family. Winningham said the experience happened with perfect timing.
"I (finally spent) Christmas with my sister and brother in Shelton, Wash. I don't think it could have been timed any better. This whole thing has been a real mind blower for me, and probably for them, too," Winningham said.
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