Monday, May 24, 1999

Enquirer photo reunites father, family

31 years apart end in embrace

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ginny McQuitty hadn't seen her father, Vern Jones, for 31 years until they were reunited Sunday. Family members had lost track of him until his picture appeared in Thursday's Enquirer (below).
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        On Thursday, Vern Jones lived alone at the Fort Washington Hotel, boxed in by yellowed walls and a carpet pocked with cigarette burns. Three days later, he sat surrounded by a family he had forgotten.

        Mr. Jones, a nine-year resident of the downtown, single-room-occupancy hotel, was discovered last week by his family, who saw him on the front page of Thursday's Enquirer. It was the first time they had seen him in 31 years.

        “I'd really given him up for dead, is what I did,” said his youngest daughter, Ginny McQuitty of Highland County. “But when I (saw the article), I knew it was him. I wanted to come down here right then, but it was nighttime.” Family members said the 63-year-old man disappeared from Brown County three decades ago after he divorced his wife, Phyllis Shelton, then suffered a stroke and lost some of his memory.

        A piece of it returned Sunday, however, when Mrs. McQuitty overcame the butterflies in her stomach to face the father she lost at age 3.

Anna Anderson reacts as she sees her long-lost brother.
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        Mrs. McQuitty stood nervously holding the hand of her aunt, Anna Anderson of Mount Orab, while the two waited with Mrs. Anderson's daughter for Mr. Jones to descend the steps into the hotel lobby.

        As Mr. Jones shuffled toward them, their chatter ceased.

        “That's him,” they whispered.

        Mr. Jones, now with a white-gray beard, stopped 4 feet from the women.

        The air conditioner whirred. The television blared The Andy Griffith Show. No one said a word.

        Five seconds later, his niece Debbie Anderson broke their silence: “Hi, Uncle Vernie. You recognize any of us?”

        With glistening eyes, the four wrapped their arms around one another.

        “Who's this one?” his sister Anna Anderson quizzed Mr. Jones, pointing to her own daughter.

        “Debbie,” he said.

        “Who's this?” Mrs. Anderson asked again, pointing to his daughter, Mrs. McQuitty.

        He stared silently. “That's your baby,” Anna Anderson answered for him.

        They walked into the lobby, switched off the television and sat on the couches. Mr. Jones and his sister compared health problems.

        Mrs. McQuitty pulled pictures from her purse and placed them in her father's hands. He stared with a slight grin and moist eyes as she pointed out his other two daughters, Veronica Armstrong and Kimberly Shumake, both of Mount Orab, and the five grandchildren he never met.

        “There's a lot of them,” he said about his new-found family members.

        Mr. Jones wanted to know about his own father. Anna Anderson said he died four years ago in his sleep after a stroke. Mr. Jones sat quietly and listened.

        Their father “cried a lot” after Mr. Jones left, Anna Anderson said. “They were close. Daddy was very sad.”

        Mr. Jones' lack of contact with his father led family members to think something was wrong.

        “We couldn't figure out why he stayed away so long,” Mrs. Anderson said.

        When asked whether he tried to get back in touch with the family over the years, Mr. Jones said he “couldn't travel” after the stroke. And he couldn't remember people.

        Mr. Jones grew up in Mount Orab. He worked as a truck driver after he got out of the Army in 1957, until he disappeared 11 years later.

        The last trace the family had of Mr. Jones came in 1984, when they tracked him to a Salvation Army station in Norwood. But when family members arrived, they were told Mr. Jones had just left. After that, any attempts to find him were fruitless.

        Even Mr. Jones remained confused Sunday over his previous whereabouts.

        The family had given up. Until Thursday.

        That's when Mrs. Anderson's sister, a Mason resident who is Mr. Jones' stepsister, picked up the Enquirer and called Mrs. Anderson.

        Mr. Jones was on the front page in an article about the possible sale of the hotel. In disbelief, Mrs. Anderson began a flurry of phone calls to relatives.

        When Mrs. McQuitty saw her father's picture, “All she did was hug the paper,” said cousin Debbie Anderson.

        One of Mrs. McQuitty's two sisters, Kimberly Shumake, of Mount Orab, visited Mr. Jones first on Saturday. She'll return next weekend to pick him up for a Memorial Day family picnic in Mount Orab.

        And the family hopes, members said, that's where he'll stay.


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