By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Duane and Patty Wegner of Winsted were 16 years old when they made the decision to give up their newborn daughter for adoption.
They agonized over the choice they had to make months before the baby was born and, then, for 35 years after.
The heartache continued even after the couple married in 1979, and had three children Jason in 1980, Nicholas in 1983, and Allison in 1988.
“We thought about finding her every day,” Duane said. “The decision was draining on both of us, all of these years. It never went away.”
“I went online at different times,” Patty said. “I would get to a certain point and I just had to stop because I was afraid I had no right to disrupt her life. I didn’t know if she even knew she was adopted.”
And then, last fall, in what Duane called one of the four happiest days of his life, they met their firstborn child, Tina Hausladen of Buffalo.
The search to find her, that had taken more than a year, began with Duane’s decision to tell the Wegner children about their sister who was given up for adoption. It was something that came as a complete surprise to all three.
“I felt the kids needed to know why ma (Patty) was having a bad time,” Duane said.
“All of our kids were growing up and they were out of our lives, and it was rough on both of us,” Duane said.
“I think you could call it the “empty nest syndrome,” Patty said.
Their oldest son, Jason, is married to Kristin and they live in Winsted with their son, Levi. Another son, Nick, is married to Barb and they live in Winsted, and their youngest daughter, Allison, is attending college in Willmar.
Duane never told Patty that he had shared their secret with their children. She learned about it after Tina was finally found.
From the moment Jason learned about his older sister, he wanted to find her.
“It would have been different if she wasn’t my parents’ child,” Jason said. “But she wasn’t a half-sister. She was someone that had my exact everything.”
As soon as he started looking for Tina, a lot of thoughts went through his mind about the possibilities for a sister he knew nothing about. He didn’t know what his next step would be if he found someone who might be unacceptable to bring home to his parents.
“But I decided I had to meet her at least once,” Jason said.
He enlisted the help of Allison, who is computer savvy. They used an adoption search website called “Search Angels.”
Imagine Jason’s surprise when he discovered that his sister’s former husband was Greg Hausladen of Waverly, someone Jason knew.
“Earlier that year, we were at the same graduation party,” Jason said.
He even recalled Tina’s little boy, who had bleached white hair, just like he did when he was younger, and Jason remembers mentioning it to his wife, Kristin, later that day.
Jason called Greg. “I told him, ‘I know this is going to sound kind of weird, but can I have your ex-wife’s phone number?’” Jason asked.
Jason’s phone call to Tina was a little vague, asking her to call him. Later, that evening, Tina had talked with her former husband and he told her why Jason was trying to contact her.
Although Tina has always known she was adopted, getting Jason’s phone call was not anything she had expected.
When she was a junior, she found some family background information given to her adoptive parents from Catholic Charities adoption agency in St. Cloud where she had been adopted.
She had made an attempt at that time to find her birth parents because she was curious. But she added that finding her biological family was not something that she needed to make her happy.
“I was happy,” Tina said about her life with her adoptive family.
Tina’s adoptive parents are Roger and Mary Ann Szarke of Buffalo. She was given to them when she was one month old, and she was adopted by them in June 1976, less than a year later. She was the second child the Szarkes had adopted.
Besides Tina, the Szarkes have three other daughters, Joy, Julie, and Darla.
The Szarkes had been married in 1970, and when several years went by and there were no children, they decided to adopt.
“It didn’t make any difference how they (children) came into our home,” Mary Ann said, “biologically or adopted.”
Later, when the Szarkes had their two biological daughters, Julie and Darla, Mary Ann said it changed nothing.
When people were thoughtless and would ask her and Roger which of the girls were adopted, she would tell them that she didn’t remember.
The Szarkes had already met the birth mother of their oldest daughter, Joy, several years before.
Mary Ann said she had expected someday they would meet Tina’s birth parents, or at least her birth mother, too.
“You’re happy they’re able to find each other,” Mary Ann said. “We were able to raise them (Joy and Tina) and we will always have that relationship, but it’s still hard. It’s their parents,” Mary Ann said.
The Szarkes have had the opportunity to meet Tina’s birth parents on a couple of occasions, and Mary Ann is appreciative of the opportunity to get to know them better.
“They told us we had done a good job raising Tina and that was nice to hear,” Mary Ann said.
The Szarkes have six grandchildren, including Tina’s daughter, Helen, 6, and son, Aaron, 3.
The Wegners meet
The first communication between Tina and Jason was texting back and forth for a day and a night before they finally set up a time to meet at the Buffalo Bar and Grill.
Tina said she was nervous, “but could not wait.”
For the meeting, they each brought some pictures, and Tina had the family background information given to her from the adoption agency.
They began asking each other questions, and Jason asked her if she had twins because her birth mother was a twin.
For Tina, it was confirmation this was her biological family, because the adoption agency had told her that her mother was a twin. The photos of the Wegner siblings also resembled her and it was additional proof that she was very close to meeting her birth parents.
Jason just had to tell his parents that he had found their daughter.
It had been a year since his dad had told him about his older sister, and his mom still didn’t know that the family even knew.
“I had no way of knowing how she (Patty) was going to take it,” Jason said.
When Jason walked in that Friday, the first thing Patty wanted to know was why he hadn’t brought her grandson, Levi, with him. When he asked her to sit down, she immediately thought he was in some kind of trouble with the law.
“I am a number-one worry wart,” Patty said.
Jason had brought a photo of Tina with him, and when he set it down, Patty knew immediately who she was.
“She looks just like the rest of them. I just knew,” Patty said. “They all look like their father.”
And it was a relief for her to know that the secret was out, according to Patty.
“She came out of the house crying,” Duane said. “I was on the lawnmower and when she said, ‘turn it off,’ I thought, ‘what did I do now?’ But when I saw the picture, I knew immediately this was our daughter.”
Two days later, the Wegners met their daughter, Tina.
The Wegner children were also there.
Everyone was nervous about the get-together. Tina said it was a little “scary.”
Patty admitted to being scared, too.
“I felt every emotion possible,” Patty said.
But since that initial meeting, there have been several family get-togethers to celebrate different occasions.
Tina said since she has met the Wegners, she feels as if she has known them all of her life.
“All of the kids look so much alike that it’s unbelievable,” Patty said. “We don’t even feel we need a DNA test.”
Jason said he has felt rewarded for his efforts because it made his parents so happy.
“I started out doing this for myself, but it helped them (Patty and Duane) more than me,” Jason said. “Both of them have never been happier.”