Discovering family ties in Rock Falls
ROCK FALLS – On Wednesday evening, members of a large family met a long-lost brother they never knew they had.
Larry McKee, 67, of Rock Falls had been looking for his parents since 2005.
“I found out then I was adopted,” McKee said Wednesday evening. “They gave me the wrong names. I was looking for Paul Book and a Gallentine. I was supposed to be born in Rock Island, I went all over Rock Island looking for him. I couldn’t find him.”
At the end of last year, the state implemented a new adoption law. For the first time, the state granted adoptee requests for original birth certificates. Adopted adults could submit a request for a non-certified copy of their original Illinois birth certificate.
When the new law came out, McKee sent his request.
He got a copy of his birth certificate in the mail last week.
“I got on the computer and looked up Gallentines and Judds, because it was names on my birth certificate, and found out that my wife was working with [my brother’s] wife,” McKee said.
It turns out that McKee’s wife, Glenna, had known Wayne Gallentine’s wife, Linda, for a long time.
“After he received his birth certificate, his wife called my wife,” Wayne said. “They work together, they went to school together, and everything. They’re best friends. She called my wife on a Friday night and explained it all to my wife.
“The following Monday, we got together at my place and talked for a while, and that’s how we got together.”
McKee had been living in the same town as his own brother, Gallentine, 71, of Rock Falls, and did not know it.
The family gathered Wednesday evening at the home of their sister, Pat Rivera, 64, in Rock Falls. Over hot dogs, bratwurst, pork chops and beans, Larry McKee met his many brothers and sisters.
“This is the first time I met most of them,” McKee said. “I didn’t even know I had a family.”
Pat and Wayne organized the gathering so the family could meet one another. The two siblings grew up together.
“It’s a milestone for us,” Wayne said.
Wayne, Kaye Griffith, Ed Berridge, Larry McKee and Pat Rivera all are children of the late Olive Grace Judd and Delbert Gallentine. Their half-sister, Carol, is the daughter of Olive Grace Judd and Harold Davis.
All are related. The men in the family use their adopted last names; the women use their married last names.
Wayne said little is known about why four of his siblings were adopted out of the family.
He said no one on either side of the family will speak about the decision. His family was poor all of his life, which may have contributed to his parents’ decision, he said.
For McKee, meeting everyone was “confusing and shocking,” he said. Until a week ago, he thought he was from a small family.
“I’m having a hard time trying to remember everybody’s name and who they are,” he said.
The backyard barbecue was held on the first anniversary of the death of Linda Haenitsch, another sister of the family.
McKee isn’t the only born-Gallentine to discover that he had been adopted and then to find the family.
In 1984, Carol Fitch began writing letters to try to find her siblings. Fitch, 75, lives in Florida. She visits her siblings in Rock Falls regularly.
“I had my adoption papers, so I knew the names,” Fitch said. “So I wrote letters to all of the Gallentines up in this area. I wrote them to the Davises because my birth father was named Davis, and he died when I was 3, so then I was adopted.”
Fitch successfully found Wayne Gallentine.
“He answered the letter that I sent, so that’s how I was connected,” Fitch said.
The two reconnected after not knowing one another for 44 years, Wayne said.
Griffith had been adopted and reconnected with the family in 1976. Griffith, 70, lives in Rock Falls. She found the family through a cousin. Griffith was adopted and lived in Belvidere.
Berridge, 69, of Machesney Park, connected with the family in 1994. Griffith had been writing him letters. Berridge (his adopted family name) didn’t believe that she was his sister. He agreed to meet with her and once he saw a family photo, he knew it was his own family.
At Wednesday’s gathering, the large clan enjoyed cool beverages and marveled at the tale of how they all came together. Sons and daughters snapped pictures as the four Gallentines recalled how they discovered they had been adopted.
All said they planned to get together whenever possible.
When the many brothers and sisters share their story, people are surprised.
“I’ve had people say, You should write a book,” Carol Fitch said. “It’s interesting.”