Siblings homeless after being separated 40 years

By on July 20, 2016
Connie Guy receives a hug from her little brother, Jim Shackelford, as they meet for the first time. (Photos provided by Connie Guy)

Connie Guy receives a hug from her little brother, Jim Shackelford, as they meet for the first time. (Photos provided by Connie Guy)

 

Connie Guy searched for her younger half-brother for 40 years, and had almost given up hope. Then, a chance conversation in an online gaming app gave her the clue she needed to piece the puzzle together.

Last week, Connie and Jim met for the first time. Connie is 61 and Jim is 40.

Connie’s mother and stepfather, Roger and Dorothy Matthews, lived in Lititz for 43 after they married. Dorothy’s first husband, James Samuel Shackelford, lived in Oregon.

Connie heard rumors in 1979 about her father being served a paternity suit regarding his then three-year-old son, Jim. In 1981, Connie’s father called her, saying he was sick and didn’t have long to live.

Connie packed up her five-year-old daughter, Deborah, and the two traveled by train across the country to Gibbons, Ore., where James lived on a small ranch in the Pendleton Mountains Indian reservation. James had been told that he only had three to six months to live. He passed away shortly after Connie arrived. Connie and her daughter returned to Pennsylvania with nothing to show from her father, except a box of old photos.

“Weeks later, while going through this box of photos I found two wallet-sized photos of a baby boy, with the name ‘Jim Sam Shackelford’ scrawled across the back,” Connie said. “I was now determined to find the truth. I began this search by the only means possible — a telephone and operator — to no avail. I came up empty handed year after year, either phones were disconnected or the occupant moved and left no forwarding address.”

But Connie was determined to continue her search.

In 1999, she and her daughter, now a teenager, purchased their first computer.

“ I was told you can find anyone, anywhere by AOL search,” Connie said. “I found an address and relatives, but still no ‘Jim Sam,’ and still more dead ends.”

It wasn’t long after that Connie was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. She met her future partner, and they all moved to Mountville. Connie was the town’s mayor from 2006-2010, the first woman to ever hold the job in that borough.

“We bought a WebTV internet system. I continued my search,” Connie said. “I told anyone who would listen, my story. I also joined a website called Pogo. I like to play games.”

Connie continued to search online for Jim Shackelford, and his mother, Rosalie Doty.

“Thoughts of Jim came and went for these 20-30 years,” Connie admitted. “I would wonder where he was, if his life was good or bad? Did his mom marry? Were people in his life good to him? Did he look like me… or Dad? I wondered if he had alcoholism effecting his life. Our dad and his mother were sometimes volatile alcoholics.”

In 2008, fate intervened.

“It’s was almost Christmas, I was baking dozens of cookies and candy for the holiday,” said Connie. “My baby brother was still on my mind. I’d lost all leads to Rosalie Doty. She hadn’t been listed in the directory in Oregon for some time. It was 3 a.m. and I was awake in the middle of the night, playing a game of Scrabble on Pogo. I was chatting with a lady I was playing against, and discovered after the ‘where are you located’ questions, that she lived in Junction City, Ore.

“I told her, ‘Uncanny! My dad built a ranch in J.C. with a beautiful A-frame home.’ She then told me she knew exactly where that was… a mile or so down the road she lived on. I then began to tell her my story. She said she would look and see what she could find in her local phone book. Minutes later she tells me she has found only one ‘Doty’ — a ‘Duane Doty,’ and gave me that number.

Duane, it turned out, was Jim’s oldest half-brother.

“I was so nervous to make that phone call that I waited for two days and went on to finish my Christmas baking,” Connie said. “On Sunday afternoon, when I pulled the last tray of cookies from the oven, I decided to place the call.”

Duane had had a falling out with Jim some time previous, and hadn’t seen him in 15 years. He promised Connie he’d make some phone calls and try to locate Jim.

Two weeks later, just after New Year’s Day, Connie got a phone call on a Sunday afternoon.

“It’s Jim,” the caller said. “I think I am your baby brother.”

“We talked a very long time,” Connie recalls. “We promised to stay in touch, both dreaming of the day we would finally meet.”

During many long conversations over the next few years, Connie’s fears about her brother were realized.

“Jim told me he had issues with alcohol and arrests for his behaviors,” Connie said. “His mother died when he was 14 years old. He was an angry, lost teenager.”

More time passed — eight years went by.

“We talked on the phone often. We wrote letters and shared photographs,” Connie said.

In June 2016, Connie got some surprising news from Jim.

“Jim called me and told me he was sober,” Connie said, “and he had diabetes, but was determined to make it to PA come hell or high water.”

Jim sold his truck and left his belongings behind. He and his girlfriend, Angela, hopped a Greyhound bus in northern California, along with two service dogs. They were determined to travel as far as their money would take them.

But then, challenges arose.

“He lost his baggage with insulin somewhere between California and Nevada and ended up in the hospital in Las Vegas,” Connie explained. “A few days later, they begin to hitch hike across the country. Three-and-a-half weeks, later on July 9, 2016, I met my brother … face to face, for the first time in 40 years. He looks just like daddy — and me.”

Jim and Connie’s auspicious first meeting was a happy one, but was tarnished by some unfortunate circumstances. Jim and Angela have been homeless since leaving Oregon. Connie, too, is between residences. She is currently staying with her ex-son-in-law in Centerville.

Both are looking for a permanent, low-rent place to live in Lancaster County where dogs are welcome. Connie has contacted both HUD and Section 8; both told her to call back in six months, and recommended she go to the Water Street Rescue Mission.

“I need to find housing,” Connie confessed. “I’m on disability and virtually broke.”

Connie, although disabled, works with her sister, at a cleaning service. She’s part of the Lancaster Chapter of NORML, and worked with Senators Mike Folmer and Daylin Leach, and countless other activists, to legalize medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Jim just accepted a job as a cook at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, and is living at Penn Woods Inn nearby. He may be able to stay there until the end of faire season.

Connie and Jim are asking for any and all leads for housing and assistance in the area. Suggestions can be emailed to ttbycmg@hotmail.com.

In the meantime, Connie and Jim will continue to make up for lost time.

Melissa Hunnefield is a staff writer at the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your questions and comments at 721-4452 or mhunnefield.eph@lnpnews.com.

 

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