Siblings get together for 1st time

January 03, 1999

Lost SiblingsBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

A Washington County brother and sister received the Christmas gift of a lifetime when they got to meet their long-lost sister sister for the first time.

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For 35 years, Penny Dickensheets has been living in Frederick County, Md., less than 35 miles away from her biological family.

She didn't know about them and they didn't know about her.

Dickensheets got a first look at her sister, Annette Mulligan, two weeks ago today.

"We stood there and stared at each other for the longest time," said Mulligan, 38, of Funkstown.

It was easy to see that they shared the same broad smile.

Then Dickensheets was introduced to the extended family Christmas Day.


"It was a bit overwhelming at first but I'm excited now," Dickensheets said during a visit at her sister's house on Sunday.

After being raised as an only child, she learned she has a brother, Terry Brown, 39, of Hagerstown, as well as three half--brothers.

Almost everyone in the family could see bits of themselves in her.

She and Brown have the same big, brown eyes.

She and Mulligan sound alike when they talk.

The similarities didn't end there.

Dickensheets inherited the family trait of being blunt.

"We tell it like it is," Mulligan said.

For most of their lives, Brown and Mulligan didn't know they had a younger sister.

Verna Dunahugh, 73, kept the aching secret until about two years ago.

She gave birth to a baby girl Jan. 29, 1963, and then put her up for adoption.

A poor woman, she already had five children to take care of. The baby's father, Lester Brown, had died six months earlier in a car accident.

Mulligan went on a mission to find her sister.

She had been feeling guilty about something that had happened on a busy day at the J&M Grill three months before she found out she even had a sister.

Mulligan was busy working at the restaurant and dismissed a woman with blond hair and blue eyes who was looking for her older sister.

Mulligan was relieved to find out that the woman was not Dickensheets, who had never made any serious attempts to find her biological family.

She always knew she was adopted but didn't know much about her biological family.

Although Dickensheets didn't seek them out, she is now glad to have them.

"From the first night I felt a connection to them. I didn't think I would," she said.

It's a bittersweet story, the family said.

"I always wanted a little sister and now I've got one," Mulligan said.

When it snowed on Saturday, Dickensheets called to see if her sister got home from work safely.

"Isn't this wonderful to have someone care about me?" Mulligan said.

Brown said he wishes they could have reunited years ago.

"It's a shame we lost all those years," he said.

He plans to make up for that time.

"This is my blood and I'm really, really happy," he said.

Mulligan nearly gave up many times during her search, she said. Her husband, Richard Mulligan, encouraged her to keep trying.

The pieces fell together when two of her customers at the Fireside Restaurant and Lounge told her about someone at the Washington County Department of Social Services who specializes in reuniting families.

"It was the true meaning of Christmas," said Penny's husband, Mike Dickensheets.

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