May 22, 2009
20-Yr Adoption Puzzle Solved
Phoenix woman solves 20-year adoption puzzle
25 commentsby Mary Beth Faller - May. 22, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Kathy Suszczewicz will no longer have to look into every new face she meets for
clues to her own identity.
After years of dogged and resourceful searching - she even used Scrabble tiles
to decipher misspelled names - the 43-year-old Phoenix woman has found her two
The three met for the first time in March, the emotional culmination of two
decades for Suszczewicz.
"It was immediate joy," she said.
The three were given up by their Japanese mother, adopted by American soldiers
and their wives and brought to the United States.
Suszczewicz's brothers, Greg Berube, 44, of Victorville, Calif., and Scott
Kimbrell, 53, of Orlando, were raised as only children and still marvel at
saying "my sister" and "my brother."
Suszczewicz was adopted by a Japanese woman and her Air Force husband stationed
in Japan at the time. They moved around, finally settling in Sierra Vista when
she was 11.
Her Japanese-White appearance never seemed odd; though tall and big-boned, she
realized she looked nothing like her younger sister or her tiny mother.
After marrying at age 20, Suszczewicz searched for her certificate of
naturalization so she could change the name on her Social Security card. On the
back of that certificate was a stranger's name.
According to the document, the name was that of her birth mother.
Suszczewicz had no idea she was adopted. Shocked and reeling, she confronted her
parents, who were unwilling to discuss it with her.
"With my mother being Japanese, I had to respect her privacy," Suszczewicz said.
"She was very reserved. She only spoke of it a few times."
One of those rare instances occurred just after the birth of Suszczewicz's first
child in 1988. Suszczewicz and her mother shared a bed, relaxing on a hot day,
when her mother spoke.
She told her daughter that, in 1964, the woman who gave birth to Suszczewicz
gave her up without even looking at her. The midwife wrapped the baby in a towel
and handed the newborn to the woman who would raise the child as her own.
"It was a nice gift for her to tell me that," Suszczewicz said.
Complications to search
As Suszczewicz and her husband, Kim, raised their five children in Phoenix, she
never stopped wondering about her birth mother.
In 2000, on a trip to Japan with her mom, she visited a hall of records and
obtained a family tree. It was, of course, in Japanese.
When she returned, her father asked to see the documents so he could copy them.
He never gave them back.
Six years later, she finally sent away to Japan for translated copies of the
documents. That's when she discovered that she had two brothers.
Unbeknownst to Suszczewicz, the papers contained several errors, including the
names of the families who adopted her brothers as well as one brother's birth
Her older brother was listed as James Monroe, rather than Scott Kimbrell. Greg
Berube's family name was noted as Velub.
"When I started this, I thought I would do it in my free time or when I felt
like it," Suszczewicz said. "When I got frustrated, I would shelve it."
But seeing her kids kept her at it. "There are those little things you see in
them and wonder where it came from, especially their physical traits."
The search that started with a few minutes here and there would stretch over
years, that tickle at the back of Suszczewicz's mind always there.
Reaching out on the Web
Armed with listings on such Web sites as whitepages.com and anywho.com,
Suszczewicz would call as many as 60 strangers all over the country, including
every James Monroe Kimbrell she could find.
She left a lot of messages, and the people who answered were almost always kind,
wishing her good luck. One man sent her his family tree.
She stayed up late, tapping out queries on every genealogical and
adoption-reunification Web site she could find.
And she kept looking into strangers' faces to find herself.
Three months ago, the pieces started falling together.
Suszczewicz often posted on Internet forums devoted to adoption or missing
On Feb. 17, she stumbled across a woman in Atlanta who claimed to have a knack
for finding online information about people. Suszczewicz gave her the
information she had, still having no idea it was riddled with inaccuracies.
Hours later, the woman gave her Kimbrell's name and information, success partly
due to working on the assumption that adoptive children's first names usually
Suszczewicz sent an e-mail to the address the woman supplied, and 20 minutes
later, she received a response from Tammy, the woman who would turn out to be
her sister-in-law. Tammy's short reply was that Suszczewicz had indeed found her
brother and that she'd call him.
After reading those few sentences, Suszczewicz collapsed onto her keyboard.
The day had come.
Kimbrell received an odd call at work. His wife said he had to come home right
away. She was waiting in the driveway when he pulled in.
He had received an important e-mail, she said. From his sister.
"My what?" he said.
That night he spoke to his sister - still such an odd word to him - on the
"There was no awkwardness," he said.
Fueled by success and adrenaline, Suszczewicz was determined to find her other
Months of dead-ends made her realize the name Velub couldn't be right, so she
tried to puzzle it out. She knew that a Japanese speaker would mix up v's with
b's and l's with r's.
So, she fiddled with Scrabble tiles while her husband went into another room to
do the same.
Unscrambling with Scrabble
In a flash, it came to her - Berube.
At roughly the same time, her husband emerged from the bedroom. "I think it's
Berube," he said.
It was a surname they'd heard before and is fairly common in the Northeast where
Suszczewicz's husband grew up.
With that, Suszczewicz returned to her online helper from Atlanta, who soon
found a phone number for the parents of a Greg Berube in California.
One phone call later, she had the number of the man whom she hoped would
complete her long-lost family. She left a message and waited.
Berube, an industrial engineer, was at work when his daughter called, telling
him about the message. Like Kimbrell, Berube knew he'd been adopted and was
content with that knowledge. As he listened to the message, he was at first
skeptical. But soon, he was intrigued.
He thought, "There's a brother, too?"
Over the next few days, the three siblings talked for hours and hours on the
phone. But Suszczewicz wasn't done. She had to complete the cycle.
She told Berube she was using her tax-return money to buy them each a plane
ticket to Florida. Days crawled by as each anticipated the meeting.
"We must have talked four times a day until she finally got here," Kimbrell
Their airport meeting in Orlando was just as joyful as they anticipated.
"I felt like I was looking at myself 10 years ago," Kimbrell said of Berube.
"We meshed immediately," Suszczewicz said.
There were bittersweet moments during the weekend visit, as well.
Kimbrell had a photograph of their birth mother, taken the day she gave him up
for adoption at age 1. It was the first time Suszczewicz had seen it.
"I could see myself in the shape of her face and shape of her hand," she said.
The photograph lay on a table for two days before Berube could look at it.
Suszczewicz also learned that Berube's mother had rushed to the hospital to try
to adopt Suszczewicz when she was born but that she was already gone.
The men are in awe of their sister.
"She's been on this conquest, like Columbus," Kimbrell said.
Final piece of the puzzle
Suszczewicz's dogged determination also uncovered the final mystery. She has a
name and a Florida address for a woman she believes to be their mother.
In 2006, she sent a Christmas card to the house. The woman's husband called and
told her she was mistaken, though he lingered on the phone, asked about her
family and expressed his good wishes.
The siblings decided not to confront her.
"She gave birth to us, and we found each other," Berube said. "That's how I look
When the story of their airport reunion appeared in the Orlando Sentinel,
Suszczewicz made sure a copy made it to the woman's house.