Greg Peck: A “baby in a basket” story right here in Wisconsin
Kristen Jordan Shamus of the Detroit Free Press wrote a story The Gazette printed Sunday about Julie Himebaugh, who in 1946 was left as an infant on a doorstep in Ludington, Michigan. She was adopted a year later and grew up as Julianna Rye, though everyone called her Julie. No one knew her birth family, but through DNA tests she underwent this spring, she has located a second cousin and another possible cousin.
I learned of a similar story right here in Wisconsin last weekend. I was attending the Wisconsin Writers Association board meeting, and another association leader, Rodney Schroeter, shared with us a story he recently wrote for The Current, a supplement to The Review in Plymouth. His story recounted a column he wrote for the Random Lake Sounder in 2011.
Rodney's column offered glimpses at Random Lake newspapers from 25, 50 and 75 years ago, and presented a story from April 23, 1936. It told of a baby girl left on the kitchen table of a Silver Creek couple one Sunday night.
A note (including words misspelled) said, “Here is a little baby for you to keep. This baby is two weeks old, it was born April 4. I am not married and can not aford to suport it as I have to work for a living and I am sure that you can give it a better home then I can. So please keep her and take good care of her and do not try and find out where she comes from and where I am as it will do no good.”
It went on to offer feeding frequency and methods.
The couple, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Bruesewitz, had spent the evening with neighbors and returned home about 11:45 p.m. to find the baby, dressed in shabby clothes, placed in their clothes basket.
Rodney scanned subsequent copies of the newspaper but found no follow-up stories about the baby. He did, however, find out what happened to her.
Days after Rodney's column first ran, he received an envelope addressed to him from Val Rae Wettstein of California. She told him she was that baby.
“After a trial year, they adopted me,” Val wrote of the Bruesewitzes. “They thought they couldn't have children after losing a daughter at birth. They were blessed with a son two years after my arrival.
“I was so blessed. Wonderful parents & brother & relatives on both sides who accepted me as family. I had a wonderful childhood & have had a neat life.
“I married the boy across the street & we have 5 children. I lost my husband to cancer 16 years ago. All my children & grandchildren live close by.”
Val continued before closing by explaining that she's “alive & well” in southern California but “I am thankful I grew up in beautiful Wis. among such great people.”
Rodney wrote back, and Val offered more details, explaining she remembered living on a farm in a house made of stones and cement with a sunken living room, a home that no longer stands. The family, however, soon left Silver Creek, moving to Batavia, then to Kiel. In 1956, the family moved to California in hopes the climate would ease the asthma that Val's adoptive mother suffered.
Rodney's story included Kiel High School yearbook photos of Val Bruesewitz in 1954 and that “boy across the street,” Eugene Wettstein, from 1954.
Coincidentally, Rodney lives across the street from where the Wettstein home stood.
That made him appreciate all the more that Val reached out to him across half a continent and three-quarters of a century to share her life's story.