SHE GAVE HIM THE ACTING BUG
For most of his life Ryan Kathman had no interest in finding his birth mother. But in May, when his wife, Jenny, became pregnant with their first child, he says, "I decided, 'It's time.'" This past summer the 29-year-old University of Nebraska-Lincoln grad student asked the adoption agency Catholic Charities to let his birth mother know he'd like to meet her. Receiving the message, high school reading teacher Moira Mangiameli, 51, recalls that "sobs just burst forth from my body." When the two met on July 13, they were stunned to discover that—thanks to a mutual passion for acting—they had seen each other before, if only from afar. In 2000 Ryan caught Moira's turn in The Three Sisters. Last year, says Moira, she was "completely blown away" by Ryan's performance in The Cripple of Inishmaan. The pair even shared a stage two months earlier when they were tossed into an unrehearsed staged reading of Katrina's Path. "Somebody," says Moira, who at 22 had felt too immature to raise a child alone, "was working overtime to get us together!" Soon after reuniting, Moira was cast to play Ryan's mother in True West. "The first thing that came into my head was, 'It's perfect!'" says Ryan. Moira—who since Ryan's birth has married and raised two sons—says it's a blessing "to have this time at the beginning of our relationship to get to know one another."
RANDY JOUBERT AND GARY NISBET
YEP, WE'RE LONG-LOST BROTHERS
A dopted in infancy, Randy Joubert had long yearned to see his likeness in another person's face. But his efforts to locate blood relatives stalled after he found his deceased parents' names—Wilfred and Joan Pomroy—and a tantalizing hint of a younger brother. Still, it was quite a surprise on Randy's first day of work last July at a furniture warehouse in Waldoboro, Maine, when he noticed that a coworker, Gary Nisbet, 35, had the same walk, same laugh, same physical build. Two months later—after one too many coworkers and customers asked if the men were brothers—Randy, 36, summoned his courage and popped the question: "By any chance are you adopted?"
"Yeah," Gary replied defensively. "What's it to you?"
"You know your birth parents' names?" Randy asked.
"Yeah, of course I do," Gary said.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Randy pressed on. "Are their names Wilfred and Joan Pomroy?"
Long silence. Then, "How do you know my parents' names?"
"They're on my birth certificate too," Randy said quietly.
After the reunited brothers appeared on TV, they discovered and reconnected with two older half sisters. "My [adoptive] parents are ecstatic," says Gary, who's single. "They're like, 'Wow! A whole new family!'" For Randy, who's engaged, "the cool thing is," he says, "we have the rest of our lives to get to know each other."
DAN NEWBURN AND JOHN MELLINGER JR.
CONNECTED THROUGH FACEBOOK
Trying to "friend" a stranger on Facebook can be tricky, so the Baptist minister cut right to the chase last July when he sent a friend request to John Mellinger Jr. of Spokane, Wash. "Hi, my name is Dan Newburn, and I'm from Las Vegas," he wrote. "I'm 71 years old, and I think I might be your older brother." John, 70, a retired barber, took one look at Dan's attached photo and dialed the phone number included in the message. "We look a lot alike," he told Dan. When the names of their birth parents proved a match, the two men began speaking daily. Two weeks later they rendezvoused in Spokane. As they hugged, the brothers' tears were both joyous and bittersweet. "I thought, 'How much time do we have?'" Dan says of John, who suffers from a lung condition and is on oxygen. Yet the timing of their reunion couldn't have been better. "This has awakened him," says John's wife, Linda. "He's excited about living." Dan, too, finds every shared minute precious. "I didn't know how much I missed my brother until I found him," he says.
JOE WANEK AND BRENDA CLUBINE
A PHONE CALL CHANGES THEIR LIVES
One evening in March 2008, Joe Wanek's phone rang and the caller ID flashed "California Correctional Facility." When Joe picked up, he heard the words he'd waited decades to hear: "It's Mom."
Until that conversation with Brenda Clubine, Joe, 28, had been both curious about and ashamed of his biological mother. While growing up, he was told that she "was a monster and a murderer." As a result, he adds, "I felt horrible. All the time." Years later, divorced and raising two sons alone as a hotel maintenance worker who never felt connected to his adoptive family, Joe began to wonder about the woman who had disappeared from his life when he was 5. Knowing his mother's maiden name, Joe tracked her down. Brenda had achieved prominence through a documentary on Convicted Women Against Abuse, an organization she founded. The group champions battered women's syndrome as a legal defense—one that might have spared her 25 years behind bars for the murder of her husband, an act that she claims was done in self-defense.
Released from prison 14 months ago, Brenda, 48, is making up for lost time. "I get to talk to Joe every day," she says. "I get to know my wonderful grandchildren." Joe, who has since remarried, is no less grateful. "Now I have someone to call when times get rough," he says. "I have my mother, whom I have been waiting for my whole life."