December 14, 2008
A personal ad in The Saginaw News helped a man learn about his father
Posted by Sue White | The Saginaw News December 13, 2008 05:58AM
Richard R. Ryles anxiously searched the framed confirmation pictures hanging in St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Saginaw Township, looking for a familiar nose.
"That's my dad," he said, stopping before a group shot from the 1940s and framing Donald R. Butcher's young face with his thumb and finger. "Down here is my grandmother; look, it's written in German. This is my family."
For Ryles -- Rick to most who know him -- Saturday's reunion with nearly 40 relatives -- his father's sisters, nieces and nephews -- was an emotional crescendo to his search in the Pentagon, public libraries in Detroit and finally, in late October, through the personal ads in The Saginaw News for the American serviceman who fathered him while stationed in Japan.
Butcher died in 1979. His mother, Henrietta "Etta" Butcher, who never gave up hope of finding her grandson, died in 2003. In a twist of fate, Ryles met the rest of the family on Etta Butcher's birthday.
"I was an only child who always wanted a little sister, and my wife comes from a small family, and all of a sudden -- boom! -- it's amazing," a grinning Ryles said.
An American family adopted Ryles when he was 4. He tracked down his Japanese mother, Tomiko Fujawara, 20 years ago, and she embraced him, his wife Melissa and daughters Margaret, Elizabeth and Hannah. She also told him how the man she called Bouchi left Japan before seeing him and never came back.
The journey that began with a fuzzy black-and-white picture of a '50s-era airman and a stab at a last name will come full circle this summer, when Ryles' mother arrives to meet the family she thought abandoned her a half-century ago.
"I wasn't sure how I would react if someone answered the ad," said Ryles, 54, a West Point graduate who retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel in 2006. "Surely, my father would have married someone by then, and I didn't know how he'd feel about explaining a baby he might not have mentioned to anyone."
What he couldn't know was that his father tried desperately to find his son, and his family never gave up hope that Ryles would some day complete their family circle.
Carole Fresorger of Buena Vista Township, Donald Butcher's sister, saw the ad in early November and told sister Donna J. Almy of Saginaw Township, "I think that's Don."
"When Don came back (from Japan), he would tell us, 'I want my baby so bad,' " Fresorger remembered Butcher saying of the son he never met. "But as much as he tried, the government wouldn't let him bring (the mother) back or go back to Japan for her."
Michael Hollenbeck | The Saginaw NewsRick Ryles, 54, of Tokyo, Japan, right, reads names and matches them with photos of family members at St. John Evangelical Church, 4705 Brockway, Saturday. Center is his aunt Carole Fresorger, of Buena Vista and left is a cousin Collette Kraenzlein, 34, of Sagianw. One photo includes Ryles' father.
It was a time, his family explained, when servicemen were discouraged from forging relationships with foreigners, and Butcher's quest was buried in a mountain of red tape.
Shunned because her baby had an American father, Fujawara moved three times after Ryles' birth, trying to find work. A letter reached her six months after Ryles was born, "but she tore it up because she was so mad that (Butcher) didn't come back for her," her son said.
When Ryles was 4, his mother gave up him for adoption to spare him the scorn. She picked an older couple -- both were 42 -- so that when they died, he would still have time to look for her.
Ryles, whose adoptive father was in the U.S. Navy, lived for four years in Japan while growing up, "and I could have passed my mother on the street without knowing it," he said.
In 1959, her mother's house caught fire, destroying pictures, letters and nearly everything she had from that chapter in her life. Fujawara never married, never had another child, and until 20 years ago, when Ryles tracked her down, she had thrown herself completely into teaching flower arranging.
He and his family have since moved back to Japan, where he still works for the U.S. Army as a scientist in collaborative research. When his daughter's passport was stolen, he searched through the family's paperwork and came across a paragraph he had missed earlier in his adoption papers, one that mentioned his father's name and other information about him.
He used the information to craft the ad that finally brought him to Saginaw.
Butcher returned to the states in 1954, eventually married Patsy, who now lives in Utica, Neb., and had four children, who now live in Arizona and Nebraska. Before he died Oct. 1, 1979, Butcher gave his mother pictures and a music box with a Japanese figurine to pass along to his son some day.
Etta Butcher entrusted the mementos to her daughters. Saturday, they made good on their promise.
"We hugged and hugged and hugged," his aunt, Almy said. "We were all so happy; we were so glad."
A cousin, Donna Keenan of Bay City, made a family scrapbook for Ryles, including photos his father took while stationed in Japan. Using his iPhone, Ryles sent his mother pictures she hadn't seen for decades.
"When I told my mother that I found my American family, it was melancholy," Ryles said, "but it brought closure to a chapter that hadn't closed. This closed the book a little bit."
Sue White is a staff writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach her at 776-9601 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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