Obituary mystery leads to local man, half-brother meeting

Tammy Walro

        It was a meeting years in the making.
        Two men, strangers for most of their lives, unaware of their connection until an obituary led to questions, which were left unanswered for decades.
        On May 11, Bernie Smith, who lives on the outskirts of Martin, finally got together with Ralph Carpenter – the half-brother he knew nothing about until well after the death of their father in 1984.
        Bernie, hails from a large family. There were 13 Smith children, including him.
        When his father, Otha, died in 1984, a family member showed Bernie’s wife, Nancy, a copy of the obituary at the funeral. Listed among those surviving was Ralph Carpenter.
        Perplexed, she asked Bernie about it. He had no idea. “Maybe he’s a close friend or a Smith wannabe,” Bernie said.
        The couple asked other family members. “No one said a word,” Nancy said.
        Years later, Bernie brought it up again to his sister, who was visiting. She changed the subject and the conversation moved on.
        Sometime later, when Nancy was working on a family tree, she pulled out her father-in-law’s obituary again. “I brought up the question of Ralph Carpenter’s identity to Bernie, and he said, ‘I’m going to find out.’”
        Frustrated and now a little angry, he decided to press his younger sister, Barbie Foster.
        “Who the heck is Ralph Carpenter?” Bernie recalls asking on the phone call.
        “I thought you knew – he’s your half-brother,” his sister, in tears, finally told him.
        “I guess Bernie’s father strayed from his marriage and that’s when Ralph was born– that’s the sad part,” Nancy said.
        Ralph’s mother passed away when she was 33 (he was 13) and he never knew who his father was until his grandparents told him when he was 29 years old.
        The couple is unsure of why Bernie’s family, who knew about Ralph, never brought it up. “All the other family members knew about him for all these years, but never told Bernie,” Nancy said. “We’re not sure why…we can only guess that it might be because Bernie was very protective of his mother.”
        Ralph later told Bernie that the other Smith family members never talked about Bernie to him, either.
        Making a connection
        Bernie asked his sister for Ralph’s phone number. He called his half-brother and they began forging a relationship, learning they had a lot in common – they both like to hunt and fish. And both of their wives are named Nancy.
        They men agreed to send pictures so they could get to know each other. “I not only sent pictures, I sent Bernie’s whole life story – pictures and stories about everything,” Nancy said. “I wanted him to be a part of Bernie’s life, since he missed out on it.”
        When Nancy saw a photo of Ralph, it immediately jogged her memory from Bernie’s mother’s funeral in 1983. “I vividly remember seeing Ralph and his family there, but, of course, we had no idea who they were – we thought they were friends of the family or something,” she said.
        Since their first conversation, Ralph and Bernie had been hoping to be able to meet in person, but car problems and Bernie’s COPD got in the way of plans. When Ralph recently got a new truck, he called and told Bernie, “I’m coming up to see you.”
        Accompanied by Bernie’s sister, Barbie, Ralph and Nancy made the trip to Northwest Ohio last week. When the plans were finalized, the two men became emotional at the thought of finally being able to meet.
        “It was wonderful,” Nancy said. “We all had a great time.”
        “What’s sad is that we missed all those years,” she said. “Now they’re up there in age – Bernie’s 82 and Ralph is 76 – who knows how long they’ve got.”
        After the visit, Ralph called to say he had a good time. The men and their wives hope to get together again soon.


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