Monday, February 18, 2002

A picture-perfect reunion

'Didn't have any hopes that it would work out this way'

By Angela T. Koenig
Enquirer Contributor

        Harald Laesche of Oldenburg, Germany, and his newfound extended Cincinnati family would be the first to tell people: Don't throw out those old photographs, even if you're not quite sure who's in them.

        On Sunday, Mr. Laesche, 58, met with about 20 long-lost relatives, after undertaking a sentimental search with little more than a 55-year-old photo to go on.

        “I didn't have any hopes that it would work out this way. I thought, "How could they still be living here?'” said a beaming Mr. Laesche at the Pleasant Ridge home of a cousin, Patricia McGraw.

        Mrs. McGraw organized a family reunion to celebrate the links in their shared heritage.

        Mr. Laesche, a Bayer Corp. executive, got help from his company and a story published Feb. 7 about his quest to locate relatives in a 1947 family photo.

        German man's quest began earlier this year, when Mr. Laesche, a marketing executive with Bayer Corp., found a photograph dated 1947 among his deceased parents keepsakes.

        The photo triggered memories of care packages sent to his to family to bolster them in war-torn Germany.

        Mr. Laesche wanted to find the family to thank them, but had nothing to go on other that the packages came from Cincinnati. With a trip here for a business conference already planned, word of his search spread through the Bayer corporate grapevine to Bayer's Addyston plant, where a director, Ken Perica, put the word out and set up a special phone line to take leads.

        A story about the search was published in The Enquirer Feb. 9. Then the phone started ringing.

        Jean Ahlers, 59, of Delhi Township saw the photograph in The Cincinnati Enquirer and immediately recognized her grandmother sitting in a chair and herself as the little girl in bib overalls.

        Seated next to her is Mrs. McGraw, 58, and Mrs. McGraw's brother, Jerry Roa, deceased.

        As it turns out, Mrs. McGraw's mother, Marie Laesche Roa, 91, and Mr. Laesche's father, Franz, were cousins.

        “We've been looking at photographs for hours,” said Mrs. McGraw, who also provided Mr. Laesche with copies of 27 letters his father sent to Cincinnati, some thanking them for the items like chewing gum, clothes and toys they'd received.

        An added bonus, Mr. Laesche said, were pictures of himself as a child.

        “During that time, photographic supplies were very difficult to get, so I have very few photos from my childhood,” he said.

        The family only has a day to reconnect; the conference begins today and Mr. Laesche returns to Germany Thursday. But all say they'll be keeping in touch and are grateful for their cousin's efforts to find them.

        “I thought that I was the last Laesche left in the world,” said cousin Jane Laesche Lehmann, 72, of Fairfield, who had only recently given up an exhaustive search to find more relatives.


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