Havre Daily News
One of their earliest childhood memories was coming home from school only to find that their four other siblings were gone. They sat together in a foster home, young and confused.
Sound like a nightmare? This was what Chuck Evans, 58, of Havre and his brother Melvin Allen, 60, of Mattoon, Ill., faced early in their lives. Chuck was 7 and Melvin was 8 years old at the time.
They too would eventually learn how to cope without each other.
After being apart for 33 years, both brothers reunited for the wedding of Chuck's daughter, Michelle, on May 27 in Havre at the Assembly of God Church.
Melvin, who had never met his niece, was thrilled he could be a part of her special day.
"I'm rooting for her with this marriage," he said. "This is a very special visit," Michelle said just before she married Dale Garland. "I'm glad that he's here."
In 1953, the Korean War had ended and employment opportunities were scarce. Chuck and Melvin came from a poor family. They had four siblings - Marjorie Louise, Naomi Sue, Donnie Eugene and Marla Kay - and their parents, George and Ola Mae Whitsel, and lived in Shelbyville, Ill., they said. Chuck's name at the time was Charles LeRoy Whitsel and Melvin's name was George Whitsel. They both remember the foster home and the hope they had of seeing their sisters and brother again.
"I thought to myself that they'll be back," Chuck said. "I didn't know where they had gone and when they would be back."
Little did they know that their siblings had each been adopted by different couples. Since Chuck and Melvin were the oldest of the bunch, they were the last to be adopted.
Chuck, now a BNSF retiree, recalled talking to his biological parents through a screen door at the foster home. That was the last time he ever saw them.
"The lady that was the foster mother said, 'I'm going to let them talk to you, but they cannot touch you. You have to stay here,'" Chuck said. "There was no emotion. Basically all they wanted to know was how I was."
In 1954, both brothers were adopted, but by different couples. Chuck's adoptive parents were Carl and Alice Evans of Danville, Ill. After Alice died, Carl married another woman, Velma.
Melvin's new parents were Orville and Ruby Allen of Windsor, Ill. Melvin named himself after a local hero named Melvin Brown.
Chuck felt relieved when his own adoption became final.
"You begin to think these people really do care about me. I'm not going to wake up in the morning and be taken to an orphanage," he said.
Twelve years passed before the brothers faced each other in person again.
Melvin, who was 19 and serving in the U.S. Navy, had contacted a neighbor who knew his brother's adoptive parents. He then wrote a letter to the Evanses asking to reunite with his younger brother. The Evanses forwarded the letter to their son, who was 17 and had just joined the U.S. Air Force and was waiting to be shipped off to the Philippines.
"I was flabbergasted. I knew I had a brother because I had the memories," Chuck said. "I had orders to go to the Philippines. So I knew that any time that we had to spend with each other was not going to be long-term."
Although they had grown up without each other, they discovered they had a lot in common.
"We both liked the same kind of music, enjoyed the same kind of cars, smoked the same brand of cigarettes and drank the same brand of beer," Chuck said.
Melvin wanted his brother's help in finding their other siblings. Chuck wrote a letter to the adoption agency asking to open his records. However, he said, that search was short-lived because a judge threatened his military career if he pursued the matter.
"The records were sealed. That's how strict adoption was. At that time, people didn't tell their children that they were adopted," Chuck said.
Chuck and Melvin kept in touch over the years through the occasional letter, Christmas card and phone call. In fact, it was during a phone call in November 1968 that Chuck found out he was an uncle. Chuck also had big news for his brother. He was moving to Havre to be with the love of his life, Nancy Nordling. They met when he was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base and Nancy was attending beauty school in Great Falls.
"He thought the world of her and he was thinking seriously about quitting his job there and moving out here (to Havre)," Melvin said.
Until the recent wedding in Havre, the last time they saw each other was in 1972.
Melvin's search for his other siblings continued. After three long years, he finally tracked them down.
"I found every cotton-picking one of them," he said.
Melvin visited his biological father in 1975. Both of their parents have since died.
"He was quiet and it was hard to get anything out of him. He basically sat there and listened. I guess ... he accepted the fact that he was never going to see any of his children again," Melvin said.
Chuck doesn't remember a lot about his biological father.
"He was a strong man and had quite a temper from what I recall," he said.
Both brothers agreed that they share physical resemblances with their biological parents. Melvin's slim build was more like his father's, and Chuck's stocky build resembles his mother's side of the family.
Chuck and Melvin had a rough start in life, but they are grateful for where they ended up.
"Grandpa Evans always said, 'If they're throwing dirt, make new ground,'" Chuck said.
"I think that adoptive parents are very special people because they're the people who chose us," he added. "They could've chosen any other child and yet God led them to pick me. I was 7 years old, I had some bad habits and I already had my mind set. They took me regardless.
"A child is yours no matter what. Even though we don't like what our biological parents did, I'm not so bitter that I can't forgive. I couldn't have asked for any better parents than what I ended up with. There's not a lot of men who can say that their mother (Velma) was their best friend."