Book recounts reunion between birth mother, daughter
The story of a young mother who had to give up her baby for adoption in 1925 and the eventual reunion of the birth mother and daughter many years later is chronicled in “My Little Valentine,” a book written by Delia native KelLee Parr.
Parr, who now resides in Manhattan, recently finished his book that shares the true story of his mother, Wanda Parr, reuniting with her birth mother, Leona May Bretches.
“This book has been 10 years in the making,” Parr said. “I started it many different times, but what set it in motion was when I ran across hundreds of letters from Leona (the birth mother) written to my mother after they were reunited. They wrote to each other twice a week for many years.”
Leona gave birth to daughter Wanda on Valentine’s Day in 1925 at the Willows Maternity Sanitarium in Kansas City when she was 17. Wanda was then adopted by Lynn and Emma Keller of rural Delia.
“Although she was raised in a wonderful, loving environment, my mother always had a desire to know who her birth parents were – especially her birth mother,” Parr said.
When Wanda was 21, she was given her original adoption papers from the Kellers, which listed her birth mother as Leona May Hendrickson.
“My mother was lucky that her birth mother used her real name because a lot of women didn’t,” Parr said.
Wanda didn’t spend much time looking for her birth mother until after her adoptive parents died, Parr said. Emma died in 1980, and Lynn died in 1990.
Parr said his mother wrote letters to various organizations asking for help locating her birth mother and always scoured phones books for the name Hendrickson whenever she was traveling out of town.
Parr was conducting some research at the Kansas Historical Society for a class he was teaching when he noticed census records on mircofiche.
“That’s when it clicked,” he said.
Searching Kansas census records, Parr found a Leona Hendrickson in Havana, Kan. in 1910 and 1915. After several phone calls to residents in Havana, Parr spoke to a cousin of Leona’s in Wichita.
“I told him I was working on some genealogy, and he told me Leona was living in California and that he would pass on my information to her.”
Leona wrote to Parr in 1991, and he responded that he was looking for his mother’s birth mother.
“I wrote that it was OK if she didn’t want to talk to us, and that we didn’t want to disrupt her life,” Parr said.
But Leona did write back, and through a series of telephone calls, first with Parr and then with Wanda, the birth mother and daughter were connected again.
“Within one to two weeks, my mother and I were on a plane to California,” Parr said. “When she gave birth, Leona said she had to promise not to look for Wanda, who she originally named Marcia.”
In August 1991, Leona, who was 83; and Wanda, who was 66; met for the first time.
“They hit it off wonderfully,” Parr said. “She was able to get a lot of questions answered.”
The women visited each other often and wrote letters back and forth for 13 years until Leona’s death in 2004.
“Leona said that being reunited was healing for her,” Parr said.
The eBook of “My Little Valentine” is being released Thursday from Barnes and Noble, Apple iTunes and Kobo. For more information about the book, visit www.mylittlevalentinebook.com
Parr currently authors elementary education science books at his home in Manhattan but has worked in a variety of capacities in his lifetime including an extension agent in southern Kansas and an elementary teacher in Topeka. He has also completed agricultural mission work in Guatemala and worked with the Kansas State Alumni Association in promoting the university.