Frost resident and Mountain Quest Inn co-owner Alex Bennett always knew she was adopted as an infant, as was her sister, Barbara, but it wasn’t until last year that she made great strides in finding other members of her birth family.
With the help of her Mormon friend, Jane Turner, Bennett, now 70, discovered a full sister, Cindy Hoefer, a half-sister from her mother’s side, Sandy Stilwell, and a half-brother and half-sister from her father’s side, Bernie Scott and Carolyn Simmons.
On February 19, Hoefer, three of her daughters and their families traveled from California, Stilwell from Texas and Scott and Simmons from Virginia, to have a family reunion at Mountain Quest.
Bennett said she first learned the names of her birth parents – Cleo Bernard Scott and Nettie Rae Scott – when she was 18. She didn’t start a search at that time, but she kept the Scott name in the back of her mind.
“I couldn’t do anything with that for years because I got busy with my life,” Bennett said. “I used to travel a lot. I went to different places. When I would go into a city, I would look up all the Scotts and call, just to see if there was a relation. I never found anything, but once everything started coming up on the Internet, times changed.”
About two years ago, Bennett shared the little information she had about her family with Turner, who asked Bennett to let her search for her family.
While Bennett was away teaching at Bangkok University in Thailand, Turner searched and came up with some amazing results.
“When I came back, she said, ‘here’s this half-sister and half-brother that we found,’ and she had details on them,” Bennett said. “She was falling off the chair because not only did she find out that the family had been in White Sulphur Springs and we were so close – which she thought was really fun – but also she was able to trace back seven generations where someone from nobility married into the family, and we were able to trace our heritage way back to the first family of Rome. Then in the first family of Rome, a Jew married into that family and they traced their heritage back to four thousand B.C.
“So all of a sudden, we have this unraveling of this connection all the way back, which is just phenomenal,” she continued.
The connection between Bennett and Hoefer was made because Turner entered their mother’s information with an incorrect death date on Ancestry.com, which caught Hoefer’s attention.
“My mother didn’t die before I was born,” Hoefer said. “I contacted Jane and tried to correct the information. Then, I gave her my email address and she gave it to [Alex] with my phone number.”
The women discovered that Hoefer was born 14 months after Bennett, and Hoefer added that they also had two more siblings and Stilwell, a half-sister.
“[Cindy] called me and said something like ‘you’re not going to believe this, but I sent my phone number to this woman that’s maybe our sister,” Stilwell said. “I’m like, ‘oh my God, let’s see if she calls us back.’”
The ladies stayed in touch and Hoefer’s daughters quickly went online and looked up Bennett. When they saw photos of her, they immediately knew she was related to them, and vice versa.
“When I saw her – she’s identical to my older sister who passed away,” Bennett said. “The picture that she had on the Internet, it could have been my sister [Barbara]. It was really just unbelievable.”
They did a DNA test just to confirm what they already knew – they were sisters.
After confirmation, the next step was scheduling a visit.
Hoefer initially planned to visit Bennett in November, but due to complications, had to reschedule. When her daughters found out about the trip, they stepped in to offer their help, and to join in on the fun.
“My younger sister and I had originally planned a Disney Land trip for this week and so when we found out Mom couldn’t go in November, Robin’s like, ‘Becky, why don’t we just cancel the Disney Land trip and let’s get mom out there,’” Rebecca Hoefer said. “My younger sister, Robin Hills, and her husband, Mike, drove my mom across country. She concocted the plan and her husband, bless his heart, drove her.”
Rebecca and her other sister, Rashele Wiltzius, flew most of the way and caught up with the rest of the family to travel in the RV. They picked up Stilwell in Oklahoma City.
A lot of thoughts come to mind when talking about meeting family members for the first time, but instead of being awkward or uncomfortable as some would assume, the gathering was fun, exciting and heartwarming.
“When we got here, we got out of the RV – it was like all these people and we knew we were kin to most of them – it was overwhelming to say the least, but this one [Alex] ran up and grabbed me,” Hoefer said.
“It’s exciting,” Hoefer daughter, Robin, said. “The only people that we knew, the only aunt we knew growing up was our Aunt Sandy and her two boys. Other than that, I didn’t really have any aunts. No grandma and grandpa, so we didn’t know any of them. My mom has talked ever since we were little that she wanted to find her siblings and so we knew there were more out there. We knew that she was always looking. She always hoped she would find them.”
“It took sixty-nine years,” Bennett said.
The family spent the week together, getting to know each other, swapping stories and photos. Hoefer’s daughters and Bennett’s daughter, Ginny Ramos, compiled binders for each family member to take with them that includes photos and “questionnaires” everyone filled out.
During their time together, the family discovered they had a lot in common and realized that many of the traits, habits and talents they have are hereditary.
“The similarities are amazing,” Bennett said. “All of them are musical.”
“I think that’s what is fascinating for us is how musical [Cindy] is and then finding out about Alex being musical,” Hoefer’s daughter, Rashele, said. “Listening to her sing is like listening to our mother. She raised us to sing together and all of us play instruments. We were raised singing with each other and we still do it occasionally.”
Hoefer’s daughters performed an a cappella song and even sang with their cousins.
“We did that with my kids, too,” Bennett said, of sharing musical talent. “Growing up, I always had that question, ‘where did the music come from?’”
Hoefer is also a talented poet and writer. She has written a poem about the search for her family and she plans to write a book about it, too.
“I’m actually writing a story about it,” Hoefer said. “I’m calling it ‘Never Meant to Be’ and I wrote a poem called ‘Never Meant to Be.’”
“She writes everything and it just pours outs,” Bennett added. “Everything was separate and silent and here we have, all of a sudden, the emergence of this connectivity that none of us were fully aware of.”
As they shared stories and found connections, it was amazing to realize how close they all were to each other without knowing it. Hoefer, Stilwell and Bennett were all born in Washington, D.C. and, at one time, Hoefer and Bennett and their older sister, Barbara, lived in the city.
Hoefer traveled a lot as a child before she settled in California. During the 60s, she was a “flower child” and protested the Vietnam War in D.C. She is one of the girls who famously placed a daisy in a soldier’s gun barrel at a protest.
“She was the typical flower child,” Stilwell said.
“While I was working for the government,” Bennett said.
“They were there at the same time,” Stilwell said of D.C. “Can you imagine if they had run into each other.”
They also discovered that their older sister, Barbara, who has since passed away, lived 80 miles away from Hoefer in D.C. Bennett said Barbara and Hoefer could be twins and now that they’ve met, Hoefer said she understands an encounter she had decades ago at a grocery store.
A man approached her and asked her why she was acting like she didn’t know him. He argued with her for a few minutes before realizing she really did not know him. The sisters assume the man mistook her for Barbara, a sister she didn’t even know she had at the time.
The Sunday Hoefer and her family and Stilwell arrived at Mountain Quest, Bennett’s children and their families came to meet their “new” family members. In all 22 family members gathered and were joined by genealogist Jane Turner, who brought them together, along with her husband, Bob.
With their first week together ending too quickly, the family has already made plans to get together again.
Hoefer’s daughters want to come back and visit Washington, D.C. and hope to have Bennett visit them in California so they can show her the same hospitality she showed them.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org