Quantcast
Home » News
Home » News

Mother and child reunited in Utah after 50 years and 1 click

Published March 11, 2014 10:15 am

Man had never really tried to find birth mom, but he was curious after a DNA match online.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Until Friday, Raella Bodinus had never touched her firstborn child.

When Ken Drake was born almost 50 years ago, he was swiftly taken to the nursery of St. Anne's maternity home for teen mothers in Los Angeles. Bodinus was allowed to look at him through the window. He had a mess of newborn hair and big ears.

As she and her daughter, Robin Ramirez, drove to Lindon to meet Drake for the first time on Friday, Bodinus, who lives in Whittier, Calif., counted down the distance on the GPS: "One more mile!"

Drake, meanwhile, had been anxiously preparing for this day since an online DNA test revealed a match to Bodinus' family in February.

But he hadn't planned on searching for his birth family. He grew up happy in Riverside, Calif., with his parents and an adopted sister. His father told him when he was a little boy that when they adopted their children, it was like "picking the best candy bar on the shelf."

"They might advise [adoptive parents] to talk about it in a different way now, but it was to make me feel good," Drake said. He moved to Utah to attend BYU and remains close to his parents, who live in Hurricane. Any lingering questions about his birth family were set aside after his adopted sister years ago became estranged from the family upon finding her own birth mother.

"The fallout from that was really bad," Drake said. "I never wanted to put my mom through that."

But Drake was interested in genealogy. He submitted a DNA test to Ancestry.com in 2012, shortly after the Utah-based company began offering the test, to get his ethnic profile. The DNA tests are linked to family trees, which other users can refer to.

The tests also notify users of relatives in the system.

Meanwhile, Bodinus' brother received a DNA profile as a Christmas gift from his daughters.

A few weeks later, Drake's wife, Sheron, logged on to find a notification for her husband: "Close match."

Ken Drake sent a message to the account of his biological uncle, Richard Larsen.

"I've never made much of an effort to find my birth parents," he wrote. "But I'm curious."

Two days later, he received a reply. Larsen's family was "99 percent sure" Bodinus was his mother.

"She would like you to contact her if you are OK with that," the message stated, providing a phone number.

Bodinus herself had written the message on her brother's account. She long had wanted to seek out the baby she last saw in 1964. But she resisted, not wanting to intrude on his life. Not only had she signed the papers for his release, but at 16, her whole pregnancy had been a secret her whole family had struggled to pull off. For her last trimester, Bodinus was stashed in a maternity center for unwed mothers, able to contact only immediate family. Friends were told she had gone to a prep school associated with Gonzaga University in Spokane. A mailing address was created there to front the ruse.

Even her boyfriend, who knew he had fathered the baby, didn't know where Bodinus was. He and Bodinus wrote letters through the Spokane mailing address even though staff at St. Anne's told Bodinus to cut off contact.

"I was naive," Drake said, "and I never really understood the social forces that shaped what my birth mom had to go through. I never really gave it any thought, and I feel guilty now because I never put myself in her place and imagined what she was feeling."

Bodinus was allowed a weekly indulgence: Tommy's hamburgers, a Southern California chain that would go on to be one of her son's favorite restaurants.

After the birth, Bodinus was taken on a family vacation to recover. She had three months to finalize or reverse the adoption decision, but she knew she could not bring a baby home to raise herself. Closed adoption was the norm, and she reconciled herself to not being part of her son's life.

"It had been decided. I was hoping and praying he was with a good family, and I didn't want to impose," Bodinus said.

Ramirez and her brother, Ricky Bodinus, felt differently. They are Drake's full biological siblings: Bodinus and her boyfriend had married after high school. The two siblings wanted to know about their brother. Did he share Ramirez's aversion to egg whites? (He does.) Was he musical like Ricky? (He plays piano and organ.)

When Ramirez saw Drake's message on Ancestry.com, she frantically searched for him online. There were multiple people named Ken Drake, but it only took one LinkedIn photo to nail down the right one. He was a dead ringer for a Bodinus.

"Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. It's my brother!" Ramirez recalled saying as she teared up.

The Bodinuses and Drakes immediately shuttled into each other's lives, after decades spent accepting the distant mystery of their closest biological connections. A flurry of friendships, messages and photos were exchanged on Facebook between Drake's family and Bodinus' family. Scrapbooks were gathered. Flights were scheduled. Gifts were bought. Inside her purse, Bodinus packed cufflinks for Drake's 14-year-old son, Jared, even without knowing that her grandson has made a habit of stealing his father's. Drake, recognizing Ramirez's long reign as eldest child, affixed a note to her present apologizing for the many missed years of big-brotherly torment. With pink paper he wrapped up a brand-new Barbie doll — with the head popped off.

For Bodinus, he wrapped a necklace with his birthstone and a copy of the children's book "Are You My Mother?"

Drake paced around his sitting room Friday and peered out the window until a car pulled up to his curb.

"That's them," he said. "I just know."

He strode outside and down the front walk as Bodinus stepped out of the car and ran to her son.

For the first time in five decades, she held him in her arms.

ealberty@sltrib.com