Kent worker reunites with long-lost sisters

Auburn resident Jerry Wooliver no longer feels alone.

Kent worker Jerry Wooliver

Kent worker Jerry Wooliver

Auburn resident Jerry Wooliver no longer feels alone.

Wooliver, 67, met three half sisters he never knew he had for the first time this month at the Kent social-service organization where he works in the office. Wooliver thought he was the only survivor of a family that had been estranged for many years.

“I was shocked and happy to see them,” Wooliver said. “They are all such beautiful people with loving hearts.”

Wooliver was born with cerebral palsy, a group of disorders that affect the brain’s motor control centers and often impairs development, movement and speech. Wooliver was taken from his mother and siblings when he was 5 years old and sent to an institution in Eastern Washington after the state determined his family wasn’t able to provide for him.

Karen Newman of Lacey, Julie Martin of Mount Vernon and Janis MacPherson of Burlington were thrilled to meet the brother they found this year.

“I was really excited to see him, to touch him and know that he was real,” Julie said. “I always had a feeling deep down that there was another one of us out there. There was a missing piece to our family’s puzzle and I feel like it’s all coming together now.”


Breaking Bonds

Sometime after the state took Jerry, his father split with his mother, moved to the Midwest and remarried. His mother also remarried and settled in Kennewick.

Unbeknownst to Jerry, his mother started a new family, giving birth to a son, Sam, and three daughters, Karen, Janis and Julie. Jerry’s mother died in 1956 and Her children then were separated and adopted by different families.

“My sister Julie and I were adopted and raised together by a wonderful family,” Janis said. “I thought we were the only biological family out there, but Julie always felt like there were more of us.”

After experiencing a few health issues, Julie and Janis filed a request to view their adoption forms to see if their issues ran in the family. They also felt ready to learn about their past.

“At first, hearing more information about our family history was welcome news,” Julie recalled. “Then the more we learned, the harder it was to swallow just because of all the hard times everyone went through.”

The forms didn’t reveal any sibling information.

It was Karen that found Julie and Janis. She hired a service that helps put adoptive children in touch with relatives.

“It took two years to find them,” Karen said. “I was determined not to give up.”

Karen called up Janis right after receiving information on her whereabouts.

“She asked me if I knew I was adopted and had other siblings,” Janis said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that. At first I didn’t want to believe because I think I didn’t want me and Julie’s lives to be ruffled; we were doing fine and I was afraid this would disrupt us negatively.”

Janis said her doubts were in vain. The three sisters became instant friends.

“She looks like us and talks like us,” Julie said. “It was surreal.”

Ever since, all three sisters have stayed in close touch. They also reunited briefly with their brother, Sam, and their father before he passed away.

Since 1992, Jerry has received support from TLC, a 30-year-old nonprofit that helps 29 clients with developmental disabilities live independently. Jerry now lives in his own apartment in Auburn and works part time as an office assistant for TLC. He said that despite appreciating his “second family” at TLC, he always wondered about his past and wanted to put his biological family story together.


Finding Jerry

The steps to restoring the family tree began in 2006 when Jerry’s cousin, Joyce Dalton of Conway, Ark., got in touch with a Tulsa, Okla., woman who does family research at no charge. Dalton knew that many of her cousins had been adopted after their mother’s death and wanted to get in touch. The first one she found was Jerry.

Jerry traveled that year to Arkansas to meet her. There was soon talk of more lost relatives.

“Jerry was so excited to hear this news and wanted to continue to find everyone,” said Nanette Vanderford, one of Jerry’s support providers.

About learning his mother’s last name, Jerry urged Vanderford to go onto his Facebook account to search for people that had the unusual last name, Fortesque. She found a relative of Jerry’s in Oregon, who told her about Jerry’s three half sisters.

“I was just shocked,” Vanderford said.

Jerry found Karen on Facebook and started exchanging messages with her. After awhile, the two arranged to meet.

“I told Julie and Janis to come meet him with me and they were beyond ecstatic,” Karen said. “We weren’t sure what we would find when we got there because I heard things about Jerry that were misconstrued. I had heard he was a vegetable and so we didn’t think we’d be able to communicate with him.”

The sisters said they can understand Jerry perfectly.

“Jerry’s a wonderful human being and more than capable of talking to us,” Karen said. “I wanted to run to him when I first saw him. I couldn’t wait to make him a part of my life.”

Julie said she can’t wait to get to know him more.

“Now that we’ve all found each other, we want to build our relationships by meeting up frequently for dinners and other get-togethers,” she said. “And you better believe he’s coming with us.”

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