Sisters bond proves strong despite the years

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

In an age when scientists can successfully map the human genome, it is indisputable that genetics play a role, if even a minor one, in the way one's life unfolds.

A Soldotna woman has discovered even the passing of 60 years cannot dilute the bond between biological sisters.

Soldotna's Pat Kennedy and her sister Betty Wiand were reunited after more than 60 years. This is how their story unfolds.

Betty, Donna Jean and Dixie Lee were all born in Hollywood, Calif., to Edith and Fred Hall. However, when Dixie was 2 1/2 months old and Donna was nearly 2 years old, they were inexplicably taken to an orphanage and given up for adoption.

The girls' older sister, Betty, was only 4 at the time, but she said she can remember people coming to take away her sisters. Her only other recollection is a visit to the orphanage where Dixie and Donna were taken to live.

"I think my mother was sorry," Betty said. "Mother never talked about it, even when she died, she never said anything."

Neither Dixie nor Betty -- now 61 and 65, respectively -- have any clue as to why their parents decided to give up the two younger daughters to adoption but decided to keep Betty.

Dixie and Donna spent almost two years in an orphanage before they were adopted by Dorothy and Bill Holloway. Dixie said she and her sister only talked once about their years there. She was too young to recall anything, and the only memory Donna had was of Dixie spilling milk and Donna being blamed for it.

According to the adoption papers, the girls were formally adopted by the Holloways on May 11, 1943. At that point they were given new names. Dixie Lee became Patricia Lee and Donna Jean became Barbara Jean.

The new family moved to South Pasadena, Calif., and according to Pat, she and Barbara knew from the beginning they were adopted. However, the two girls were never aware they had another sister who remained with their birth parents.

Twenty-five years later, in 1968, Pat Kennedy and her husband moved to Soldotna, but Barbara remained behind in southern California.

The years passed, and in the late 1970s, Betty and her husband, Jim Wiand, also moved away from California to Arkansas.

Even thousands of miles from her home in California, Betty said, she never forgot the existence of her sisters.

"It always preyed on my mind," she said. "Every time I went in to a department store I thought, 'I could be passing one of my sisters.'"

Betty grew up with several reminders of her sisters. Even though, they were not spoken of, her mother kept pictures of the girls in her photo album.

"I think my mother suffered all of her life," Betty said.

Although Betty was sure her mother regretted giving her daughters up, she also thought it would be too much for Betty to search for them while her mother was still alive.

Pat said she felt the same way about her adoptive mother's feelings. Her adoption had never been kept a secret, but facts about her birth family were never discussed, and she thought her adoptive mother wouldn't understand if she tried to search for her birth family.

After her adoptive mother passed away, Pat wrote to an agency that lists adoptees and helps to link them to their birth parents. However, the agency responded that no efforts had been made to look for either Pat or Barbara.

At that point, Pat said she gave up.

Betty waited for her mother to pass away before she made an attempt to find her sisters. When Edith died in May of 2000, Betty decided it was time to start searching. She asked her daughter to find someone who could help her.

Eight months later, Pat received a phone call from her next door neighbor. The man in charge of the search located Pat in Soldotna, but he called her neighbor in case she wasn't interested in pursuing the investigation further.

After a series of phone calls, the two sisters finally reconnected.

Then, on July 14, Betty and Pat were reunited at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

"My heart was pounding like heck," Betty said. "I was afraid they might not recognize me."

However, the women had exchanged letters and photographs since the first phone call on Dec. 14, 2000, and Pat said they recognized each other right away.

Since they first spoke, the women have found many similarities in their lives, even though they lived such separate lives.

Both had four children, married truck drivers and are breast cancer survivors.

"She looks like my mother," said Betty of Pat.

Even though the two had different fathers, the sisters agree Barbara and Betty look remarkably alike.

Barbara died in 1991, and Betty said missing the opportunity to meet her makes her sorry she waited so long to search.

At the time, Betty admits she was angry with her mother and thought it would be better to wait until she died. Now after meeting Pat, she said she wishes she had done it sooner.

Pat said she never considered contacting her birth father, but she wanted to speak with her mother, if just to tell her everything was fine.

"Even if they didn't want to meet me, for some reason that was OK," she said. "As a mother, I would think I would want to know."

However, she still would not ask for an explanation, she said.

"I just figure circumstance and leave it at that."

Betty agreed.

"I don't think we would ask her why, but I think she would have been happy to see Pat," she said.

For now, the two women are content with catching up on the past 60 years.

"We are having a blast," said Betty, who has met three of Pat's four children since her arrival.

"I feel very comfortable around her family," she said of her two-week vacation that ends Saturday. "I'd like to stay longer.

"It's like I've gone to a different world. It is beautiful here."

However, she has to return to Arkansas where she and her husband are building a house.

In the future, the sisters plan to continue the phone calls, and Pat sees a visit to Arkansas in the works.

"I always figured there was somebody out there," Pat said.

It may have taken a long time to find one another, but both said they always hoped a connection would be made.

"I think that this is marvelous," Betty said. "Can you imagine it took 60 years to find her? I wanted to find my sisters. I've never been a sister."

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