By Iván Flores
Ron Barren and Roger Mansfield were infants when their alcoholic mother left them in a Detroit house and drove away. They were rescued when their neighbors heard the boys crying. The year was 1976, Ron and Roger were taken to the Sarah Fisher Orphanage in Detroit. They, like their five older siblings before them, were scattered in the foster care system. Twenty-two years later, in 1998, fate reunited them.
Now, 19 years after they met one another, Barren and Mansfield want to share the fates of their siblings and write a book about their experience.
The two men had applied for a nursing assistant position at a nursing home in Howell, Michigan. They were sent to Washtenaw Community College for training.
Linda Lukiewski taught the Certified Nursing Assistant program they were in.
“I just loved them,” she said. “ They were fun, funny, and I couldn’t help liking them.”
Although Barren and Mansfield got along well and had similar senses of humor, there were no obvious signs that they were related. Mansfield was taller and more outspoken than his older brother.
“It was a fluke conversation that brought them together,” Lukiewski said.
During a class discussion on nurture, Mansfield mentioned to the class that he had been abandoned as an infant in Detroit. Barren recognized the same thing had happened to him, and said so. Their last names had once been Fletcher. They knew they had biological siblings they’d never met. The two men later compared adoption records and confirmed their kinship.
Mansfield and Barren received national publicity for their reunion. Their story was featured on the Today Show and People Magazine, among others.
The brothers set out to find their other siblings.
Unlike their own reunion, the journey to find their brothers and sisters was not uplifting.
Roger Mansfield, 40, is the youngest of the lot. He completed the Certified Nursing Assistant Program, but left the field shortly after. He eventually opened up his own tile-installation company, which he is currently taking a break from for health reasons.
Ron Barren, 42, went on to commercial flight school in Oklahoma. He dropped out after his then-wife had a car accident. Barren began working in construction and masonry, which he does to this day. He lives in Oklahoma.
There were twins, half siblings of the other children through their mother–Terry Casha, and Sherri. Sherri passed away in her infancy, a consequence of her mother’s drinking. Casha survived, but ended up in prison for sexual misconduct. He is 41 years old.
Derryl Pastouk, 44, and Kenny Pastouk were adopted together. Kenny was murdered in Detroit in 1999. The crime was never solved. Darryl had a falling out with Roger and Mansfield before Christmas and are not currently in communication. Darryl lives in the Upper Peninsula.
The oldest of the siblings is Lori-Ann Vanhove. She is the only one still in contact with Barren and Mansfield. Barren and Mansfield hope to share their stories with children and parents in the foster care system. Their experience left them unable to bond closely with other people, even their own children. They believe other children can be spared a similar fate if their parents and guardians learn to love them.
“We’re wanting to help people who grew up in the same questions we did, because these kids are coming from more than broken home,” Mansfield said. “Many parents aren’t even aware of that. When you’re adopted, you always feel like you’re living in a stranger’s home.”
“Going around to juvenile detention centers and sharing my story is something about doing for years,” Barren said. “A lot of the kids who get in trouble… it all goes back to a lack of parental nurturing.”
Barren grew up in a stable but strict house. He remembers being confined to his front yard for an entire summer in elementary school because he brought home a C on his report card.
Mansfield was less lucky. He grew up in a physically abusive home, which led to his foster parents splitting up.
But both men remain optimistic. Finding their siblings was an important step towards finding closure. Now they’re ready to start a new phase of life focused on helping others.