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Woman reunited with half-brother

July 03, 2003|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

A nervous Terry Renner paced in a hot parking lot Tuesday awaiting the arrival of his half-sister.

The meeting was not an ordinary one because Renner and Mary Winger, both adoptees, had never met in person and had spoken for the first time by phone Monday evening.

They did not find each other through conventional search means, but through two area tanning salons.

Renner, 47, and Winger, 44, were all smiles as they embraced inside the What A Tan salon on Railway Lane.

"Oh my God; I have a brother," Winger said.

"I've seen stories like this on television and thought, this doesn't happen," Renner said.

The family reunion was the culmination of nearly 20 years of efforts by Winger.

Winger was born in Baltimore after her mother, Sandra Burger Nordheimer, moved there from Hagerstown. Renner remained in the Hagerstown area after being adopted by his great-aunt and great-uncle, who revealed the identity of his mother years later.

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For years Winger, who had learned the name of her mother and the fact that she had a brother named Terry, attempted to find them. Winger said she ran classified ads, did Internet searches and hired private investigators.

She said she was nearly out of hope and decided to make one last push to find her family. She and husband Tom Winger found a picture of a teenage Sandra Burger in a 1958 North Hagerstown High School yearbook.

On June 27, Winger struck up a conversation with Kim Clem, the owner of Frederick's Hawaiian Tan, about her search for long-lost relatives. She gave Clem a copy of the picture, which Clem passed on to Ruth Smith, the former Hawaiian Tan owner and current proprietor of What A Tan.

One of Smith's employees, Pat Renner, on Monday saw the picture laying behind the counter at the Hagerstown business.

"She saw the picture and wanted to know what her mother-in-law's picture was doing in the salon," Smith said.

Minutes later, Smith called Winger with the news.

"I was just screaming when I got off the phone," Winger said. "I didn't know what to do."

Renner's wife met him on his break at the Petsmart Distribution Center to deliver the news in person.

"I just lost it," Renner said.

The siblings began a lifetime of catching up.

Winger described Tuesday's reunion as an "unbelievable" experience.

"The first time to meet someone, with the same blood, like this is just amazing," she said.

Hours earlier, Winger spoke for the first time to Nordheimer, who lives in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nev.

Nordheimer, who got home from work Monday evening to find an answering machine message from the daughter she never knew, said she was stunned.

"It's very difficult to put into words," Nordheimer said. "All of the sudden, after 45 years, I have a daughter. I just kept walking around to everyone I work with (on Tuesday) saying, 'I have a daughter.'"

Nordheimer said she has started sending the Wingers pictures in the mail and is trying to plan a trip for the couple to visit her in Nevada.

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