More than 80 years ago, then 16-year-old Eileen Wagner, right, was raped on her way home from school. Her parents sent her away to give birth and give the baby up for adoption. Now, her daughter, left, has reunited with her mother.
Nearly a year after reconnecting with a daughter she gave up for adoption more than eight decades ago, a Wisconsin woman died peacefully at home Friday at 100.
Eileen Wagner, of Monroe, Wis., closed her eyes for the final time in the same chair overlooking her front window where she watched her daughter, Dorien Hammann, then 84, maneuver her walker up the driveway to meet her for the first time last April. Wagner’s death was confirmed by her other daughter, Nancy DeLap.
"Both of us were very happy to have made the connection," said Hammann, who celebrated Mother’s Day last year with her birth mother for the first time. At Thanksgiving, she prepared her first turkey dinner for her birth mother — with her rediscovered extended family on hand too.
The reunited mother and daughter, who spoke every few days by phone, were planning another visit later this month.
"I wanted to get to know her more and get to know how her life had been," Hammann said. "But she died the way all of us would want to go. She’s in a better place."
For more than eight decades, Wagner told no one in her close-knit family about the baby she gave up as a 16-year-old. In 1932, she had been sexually assaulted by a young man in her hometown of De Pere, Wis., became pregnant and was sent to a home in Milwaukee for pregnant girls planning to give up their babies for adoption, she said.
She went on to get married and have two more children. Her family was well-known, with several businesses in Monroe. With the exception of her husband, with whom she confided the secret before they were married, she never uttered a word of the past to anyone.
"A couple of times, I was about to say something and I thought, ‘Well, I better well let it be left alone,’ " Wagner said in May when interviewed about the reunion. "If the Lord wanted things like that, he’d take care of it for me."
Hammann was adopted by a civil engineer and homemaker who lived in a Milwaukee suburb. The couple already had a 3-year-old boy adopted previously, and lived in a three-bedroom house on three-quarters of an acre not far from the Milwaukee River, Hammann said.
She said she had a happy childhood — just as Wagner had hoped — and never sought to find her birth parents, for fear of upsetting her peaceful upbringing.
It was her daughter-in-law, Jeannette Foster, who used internet sleuthing to discover Hammann’s birth mother. When she found a name that matched, she dialed a phone number she found online, thinking she’d reach Wagner’s surviving relatives. Instead, she found Wagner in good health.
Hammann and her husband, Fred, drove to Monroe last April for a tearful first reunion, where the three seniors in walkers maneuvered for long-awaited hugs.
The mother and daughter reunited again in May when the Hammanns drove two hours to Wagner’s house from their home in Elkhart Lake, Wis., to celebrate Wagner’s 100th birthday.
National adoption advocates said it’s the longest span of time between adoption and reconnection that they’d heard of.
"It’s a wonderful feeling," Wagner said in December of their reconnection. "I’m sorry it took so long, but I’m glad that it finally came to a head."
The two extended families plan to keep in touch. They are planning a memorial service for later this year.
DeLap said she and other family members could see the sense of peace her mother had since finding her first child.
"Being able to let go of something you’ve kept a secret for that long had to be monumentally freeing for her," DeLap said. "But then being able to have a daughter that called her regularly and they could chat and she knew that she had a good life — I think it was easier for her."