Brothers reunited after 25 years

March 13, 1997


Staff Writer

Stephen Westfall will never forget the night he got a call from his younger brother, Paul Timothy. It brought them closer than they'd been in 25 years.

A quarter of a century ago, a 4-year-old Paul was sent to a foster home, and later was adopted. Westfall, who was 5 at the time, never saw or spoke to him again - until March 3.

On that day, Westfall's five-year search for his brother ended when a call came from Berlin, Germany.

Westfall hung up the phone knowing that his brother was alive, in good health, and, following his discharge from the U.S. Army, living in Germany with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.


"I knew he existed," Westfall said. "People tried to tell me he didn't, but that made me even more sure."

"I started asking questions when I was younger," Westfall said. "Mom would say one thing, and Dad would say something else."

Five years ago, he decided to get to the truth.

Westfall, 31, and his wife, Lea, 32, called relatives and friends. They wrote letters to newspapers in Hagerstown, Hancock and Cumberland, Md. They sent one to USA Today. They called talk shows. But they got no response.

"I think there were too many similar stories out there, and maybe people were getting tired of them," Westfall said.

Their phone bills exceeded $300 a month.

"I was going to the hospital for chest pains," Westfall said. "The doctors said it was from anxiety and stress."

Westfall's mother, whose problems and family responsibilities in the early 1970s led her to the turn custody of her younger son over to the state, also was the person partly responsible for bringing Paul Timothy back into Stephen's life.

A hard decision

Johanna Brown, now 60, said family illnesses and other problems forced her to turn to foster care for Paul Timothy.

"I had nowhere else to turn," she said.

"It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life,'' said Brown, who divorced her sons' father in 1983, remarried and now lives outside Cumberland.

"I had to stand there and tell my child, `You can't come back. You're going to a new mommy and daddy.'"

Westfall said his father, a railroader, had been in an accident and was hospitalized for almost eight months.

"I was capable of doing the basics by myself, but Paul was younger. He relied on her and needed more attention. She wasn't up to that," he said of their mother's decision.

Westfall said that his father, Arthur, now 75, tried to arrange for Paul Timothy to return home, but by that time, the boy had adjusted to his new family.

Finding information

One day, Brown saw an advertisement in the paper for the Adoption Support Group of Western Maryland. She gave the number to Stephen.

They called that number during the first week of February, Westfall said. "I had the first and middle name of my brother, his birthday and birthplace, the names of his foster parents and a childhood photograph."

About three days later, Ronda Barmoy-Wilt called and said she had a last name, but had to get permission from the adoptive mother before giving it to Westfall, he said.

Four days later, permission was granted and they had a full name: Paul Timothy Vanderbilt.

But Barmoy-Wilt couldn't find out where Paul was living in Germany. She said she gave Westfall a list of Army locator services to contact while she stayed on the case.

Westfall decided to try to contact his brother's adoptive mother. "I went to the DMV and told them Paul's name. It was all there on the screen: his name and an address."

Stephen and Lea Westfall drove to Westminster, Md., hoping to find Paul's adoptive mother, but she wasn't home.

Westfall wrote a letter to Paul's adoptive mother, explaining the situation. He included a separate letter for Paul and some photos, and asked her to sent them to Paul.

"I thank God she found it in her heart to read and forward his letters and pictures," Lea Westfall said.

Paul's adoptive mother also called him in Germany.

At 7:40 a.m. on March 3, Paul's wife, Kersteen, called the Westfall home. Lea Westfall said she answered, and they talked and cried together.

Westfall was at work when the first call came, but was home and waiting when Paul called at 5 p.m.

Westfall learned that Paul and his wife had come back to Westminster from Germany for a visit nearly a year ago. Paul renewed his driver's license during that same trip.

"And his wife wanted to see an American mall," Stephen said. "So he brought her to the Valley Mall. We were that close, and never knew it."

"When I think back, I think it just wasn't supposed to be," Lea said. "We had a full month in April. I had two heart attacks and was hospitalized in Baltimore. My father died."

Westfall is grateful for the encouragement Lea's mother, Mary Ann Bishop, offered them. Lea's father also had grown up separated from his siblings.

"I told him not to give up," Bishop said. "It took my husband 20 years to find his three sisters."

Stephen and Lea plan to see Paul and Kersteen, although they don't know when.

  • For information about the Adoption Support Group of Western Maryland, call Ronda Barmoy-Wilt at 1-301-724-4705.
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