Anonymous no more: Family together

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Leslie Humphrey of Bluffton, left, hugged her sister Jennifer Ornduff of Willow Hill, Ill., outside their father’s home in Huntingburg on Thursday as the two met for the first time. Jennifer was adopted when she was 3, and Leslie and her father, Johnny Sullivan, had been searching for Jennifer for years..

By CANDY NEAL
Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Leslie (Sullivan) Humphrey walked around in front of her father’s home Thursday afternoon, anxiously waiting for a special guest who was due to arrive soon.

Her dad, Johnny Sullivan, was waiting too. He seemed calm and serene. Leslie’s three children busied themselves playing, coming back to her from time to time.

Eventually other relatives, adults and children, arrived. They were also waiting on the special guest.

When the guest arrived in a van, smiling, everyone in front of the Sullivan home thought the same thing: Jennifer Ornduff was the spitting image of Leslie.

It was the first time Jennifer, 34, was meeting Johnny, her biological father, and 30-year-old Leslie, her biological sister.

Father and daughter embraced while the other relatives watched teary-eyed. Then the sisters looked at each other before hugging for a long time. Leslie’s daughter, Leona Sullivan, 7, tapped Jennifer’s arm a few times, saying, “Hey, don’t forget about me. Don’t forget about me.”

Leslie Humphrey of Bluffton, left, hugged her sister Jennifer Ornduff of Willow Hill, Ill., outside their father’s home in Huntingburg on Thursday.

She was one in a long line of people waiting to welcome Jennifer into the family.

“I tell you what,” Johnny said as he watched the siblings cling to each other. “You can’t say they ain’t sisters.”

One of the sisters’ nieces, Celina Hackett, was especially happy that her aunt has been reunited with the family. “People have been looking for you for a long time,” she told Jennifer.

Jennifer was given up for adoption when she was a baby. She stayed in foster care until she was adopted at age 6. She was raised in Terre Haute and now lives in Willow Hill, Ill.

Johnny searched for Jennifer for years, but gave up about 10 years ago. “I didn’t have any luck, so my search faded off,” he said. “But I always thought about her.” Jennifer and Leslie’s mother, Bonnie, died in the early 1990s.

Leslie, a native of Huntingburg, began searching for Jennifer when she had Internet access in high school. “I have been looking for her for forever,” Leslie said. “The thing that stopped me from finding her was not knowing her last name.

Leslie’s last Internet search to find her sister took place Sept. 20.

“I went through a lot of Jennifers in Indiana,” she said. “I didn’t know she was in Illinois.”

Jennifer, who was raised as an only child, found out at age 11 that she had siblings. The law didn’t allow her to get any information on her biological family until she was 18. After that, she, her adoptive father and his wife tried to find out all they could about Jennifer’s biological family.

They found out that her family was from Huntingburg. When Jennifer had that information, she planned a trip to visit the city this past weekend.

“I was originally coming down to look around and see if anyone here knew anything about my family,” she said. “So I already had this trip planned.”

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Leslie Humphrey of Bluffton, left, wiped away a tear as her daughter, Leona Sullivan, 7, hugged Leslie’s sister Jennifer Ornduff of Willow Hill, Ill., on Thursday.

After she made travel arrangements, her stepmom surprised her with even more news. She had found Johnny’s street address. “I was excited,” Jennifer said. “I decided to send him a letter.”

Johnny got the letter, which included Jennifer’s telephone number, on Monday of last week.

“It shook me up some,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if it was a bluff or not.”

He called her the same day. And after talking to her, he knew that it wasn’t a joke. Since then, they’ve talked often. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the phone talking,” he said. “But I don’t care. I’ve got a lot of minutes. I can’t think of any better way of using them.”

Johnny gave Leslie Jennifer’s number, which Leslie used last Tuesday. “The first time I called, I got the answering machine, so I hung up,” she said. “I didn’t know what to say. What kind of message would I leave?”

She tried again later and reached Jennifer. The two have been chatting continually since. “I told her that when she talked, it sounded like me. She said that when I talked, it sounded like her,” Leslie said with a smile. “We are opposites, but we’re so much alike.”

They have three brothers, through their late mother, and three sisters, through their dad. Three of their siblings are deceased.

“I’m so excited,” Jennifer said. “In my adopted family, I’m the only kid. So this is an adjustment, but a good adjustment.”

During one of their talks, Jennifer told Johnny that she’d be in Huntingburg on Thursday and would be staying until Saturday. “She said that she’s waited long enough,” Johnny recalled.

When Leslie found out about the visit, she made arrangements to come down from her home in Bluffton with her three children: Leona, 2-year-old Anthony and 1-year-old Colten. Her husband, Andy, didn’t make it.

So Jennifer’s trip, originally planned as a search mission, turned into a family reunion.

Family members filled Jennifer in about numerous nieces, nephews and cousins who couldn’t make to Thursday’s reunion.

“I have great-nieces?” Jennifer said at one point. “Oh, I’m old.”

She tried to take it all in, but admitted that she already was having trouble keeping up with the names of everyone gathered in front of her dad’s home.

“Y’all are gonna have to write all of this down,” she said, “because I’m not going to remember everything.”

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Leslie told Jennifer, her arm around her sister’s shoulders.

“I’m glad too,” Jennifer responded.

“I’m glad you’re both here,” Johnny told them.

Contact Candy Neal at cneal@dcherald.com.




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