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40 years later, family reunites in Manteca
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Larry Lenschmidt and brother Roy Pruette are reunited with family members they hadn’t seen for more than 40 years. Alex Carruthers, 4, bubbles in the foreground as his mother Janet Carruthers and her husband Malcom stand at right. Carruthers spent her entire life searching for her family. At left is her sister Roanne Lee, next to her is Roy’s wife Sandy Pruette, of Oakdale. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It was a truly electric and exciting moment in time.

It was all about family – about searching for roots and finding an uncle – and I actually got to be part of the concluding chapter of that life-long adventure.

It was an emotional rush for Manteca businessman Larry Lenschmidt and for his 45-year-old niece from Petaluma when she and her husband, Malcolm, their 4-year-old son, Alex, and her sister Janet walked through the front door of his German Glas Werks – the culmination of the woman’s quest to connect with her family roots.

“I’m just overwhelmed right now,” Janet Carruthers told Lenschmidt. “If you only knew how long I have been looking for my family.  I didn’t know you existed.   All my life I’ve been on a quest to find my family.  It has taken me this long – I’m 45.”

It was about two months ago that Carruthers e-mailed me at the Manteca Bulletin saying she thought she had found her uncle in Manteca.  She wanted to connect with him, but she was facing a challenge in making contact either by telephone or on the Internet.

She said she didn’t want anything from him – only to meet her uncle whom she had never known.  She asked if I could possibly be of help from the newspaper’s position in the community by making contact with him.

When I talked with Lenschmidt, he was ecstatic, saying the last time he had seen Janet was when he babysat her when she was less than two months old.  

Carruthers’ parents and other family members had been split up by a divorce over 40 years ago in the Bay Area and contact had been lost. She and her mother had moved to Marin in 1969 when she was five years old.  Larry had lived nearby in San Rafael from 1963 to 1978.   Her mother, Nancy, lives in Santa Rosa now and was “absolutely thrilled” about her find in Manteca, she said.

Her dad, Thomas Lee, had remarried several times dying in January of 2008.  It was his death and the published obituary that opened the woman’s eyes to the existence of other members of her family.  Her sister, Roanne, had written the notice of his death.

Carruthers said she had a personal on-going investigation underway for years using in an attempt to gain the information and family history she felt she so desperately needed.  

Larry said he would be able to tell Carruthers where other members of her family were living.  She already had found her 25-year-old sister Roanne living in Lake County.  Come to find out, Roanne had been living in Petaluma where she frequented the same gym that her sister used to keep in shape in that community.   Subsequently, she found another sister and a brother, as well as another uncle living in Oakdale, Roy Pruette and his wife Sandy.

She located another sister – Shannon, two years younger – living in Colfax with a career in education.  Shannon was unable to make the reunion trip to Manteca with them.  There is also a brother, Tommy, whom she has yet to meet, she said.  “I’ve been in this spirit of amazement since I found everybody,” she said of her search that has taken her back generations into Northern Ireland.

Before leaving the German Glas Werks store for a festive lunch at the Kelly Brothers’ Brickyard across the street, Lenschmidt and his two nieces poured over scrapbook photographs on a work bench near the store’s counter.  Aside from those photos little Alex became a center of attention with an unbelievable vocabulary and the understanding of a 10-year-old.

The chemistry between these “family members” was beyond my comprehension.  Everybody just clicked – and best of all, I got to witness the appreciation each person displayed for everyone else sitting around the lunch table.

There were stories of times past and stories about just what was happening in their lives today.  Little Alex would chime in, too, with what was important to him – spiders and spacemen.  All boy! – and quite a polite little guy.  When he grows up, he said, he – of course – hopes to become a “Power Ranger.”

It was about an hour later when this special reunited family unit walked back over to the glass store located at the intersection of Yosemite and Main streets – and Alex spied a Polar Bear on display.

Lenschmidt’s heart melted one more time giving his great nephew a gift of the bear.

I heard from Janet earlier this week saying her son absolutely adores the Polar Bear. “He insists on sleeping with it every night.  He had a great time and talks about Uncle Larry all the time,” she said. “He can’t wait to go back to Manteca and maybe get the brown bear, too.”

Lenschmidt, a stained glass designer, presented his two nieces with two of the artworks he had designed and produced.

Janet is a bookkeeper for a firm that manages corporate jets for their owners.  She also has a daughter, Elizabeth, 16, who wasn’t able to make the trip to Manteca.  Sister Roanne has worked as a firefighter and as an emergency medical technician (EMT) – now branching off into the field of phlebotomy.

It was a story I thoroughly enjoyed covering – the warmth and the respect for family was intense – and I was privileged  to be a party to their total involvement in life.