A recent walk past Everett Municipal Court brought to mind a love story, rather than traffic tickets or misdemeanors. It’s the place where Karen and Dennis Vinar were married.
They were featured in this column on Valentine’s Day 2015. Once high school sweethearts in Brownton, Minnesota, they had reunited decades after their teen courtship. When Dennis Vinar found Karen Lehmann online through LinkedIn, she was a widow living in Monroe and working at the Bramble Home Store in Everett. Long divorced, he lived in Minnesota. Both had raised families.
With their long-ago romance rekindled by phone calls and email, Vinar and Lehmann were married Jan. 22, 2015. Everett Municipal Court Judge Timothy O’Dell, who later retired, performed the ceremony.
There’s more than Herald readers learned three years ago. The couple’s story is told in a 2016 book, “How Did You Find Me … After All These Years?” They co-authored it with Jean Voxland, the daughter they gave up for adoption in 1961, and Jean’s husband, Andrew Voxland.
“Dennis and I started dating when I was 13 and he was 15. I got pregnant at 14 and gave birth at 15,” Karen Vinar said Wednesday from the couple’s home in Northfield, Minnesota.
Their daughter was born Aug. 13, 1961. A few months earlier, Karen had left their small hometown to stay in a Lutheran Social Services home for unwed mothers-to-be in Minneapolis. She’ll never forget the day her daughter was born.
“Dennis was in the hospital, he signed the birth certificate,” she said. “Both of us held her briefly. My parents were there and they held her. We handed her over to the nurse, that was the last I saw of her.”
Other than memories, all they had was a photo of their newborn taken at the hospital.
Dennis Vinar had asked Karen to marry him all those years ago. Her parents objected, “saying we were much too young,” she said. When Dennis was home from U.S. Army duty in Germany, he again proposed marriage. Karen, then studying interior design at the University of Minnesota, said no. Both eventually married others.
After their 2015 wedding, Dennis suggested they search for their daughter — now a 56-year-old mother of three grown daughters. At first, Karen was reluctant to disrupt their daughter’s life. “But he finally said, ‘I found you. My life would be complete if we found our daughter,’” Karen recalled.
She had named the baby Denise, after Dennis. Even knowing the adoptive parents would change it, she said, “every time I heard the name Denise I’d look around to see if that may have been her.” At last, she agreed to search. They started with Lutheran Social Services in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The agency had Voxland’s married name because she had checked her file for medical information. The Vinars were asked to write a letter to their daughter, which the agency kept. They included photographs.
Jean Voxland and her husband live in Kenyon, Minnesota, not far from her birth parents. The agency sent an initial letter, which only said a family member was trying to reach her. The Voxlands thought it might be a scam, and nearly threw it away. Andrew Voxland did some detective work. They learned it was the adoption agency reaching out.
With permission, the agency sent Jean the letter written by her birth parents. It was May 31, 2016, when they all met, with a caseworker, at a Lutheran Social Services office.
“For me, having been sought out at age 54 was a bit of a shock,” said Jean Voxland. “I grew up in the little town of Hayfield, Minnesota.” Her adoptive mother has died, but the father who raised her is living. She was also raised with an adopted brother.
After her first child was born, Jean Voxland thought about searching for her birth parents. “It never crossed my mind that I’d have the opportunity to meet both of them — and they’d be married,” she said.
Today, she and her birth parents get together most every week. As a way to process her emotions, Jean started writing about the experience. While chatting, she and her birth parents and husband all decided to write the book together.
“It is a good story and it is a true story,” Jean Voxland said. “I feel like there’s been divine intervention here. For the four of us to get together the way we did, everybody had to be in the right place at the right time.”
With her first husband, Karen had raised a son. Dennis had three other children.
“The family has increased,” Karen Vinar said. “We now have five children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.” And Jean, she added, “absolutely looks like her dad.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.
“How Did You Find Me … After All These Years?” tells the story of former high school sweethearts Dennis Vinar and Karen Lehmann reuniting, marrying in Everett in 2015, and successfully searching for the daughter they gave up for adoption as teenagers in 1961. The book is available on Amazon.com or at www.howdidyoufindme.com.