Separated more than 50 years, women discover they are sisters

Nancy Lee Kettlekamp of Carson City and Marilyn Lorraine Texel of Phoenix played a game of hide and seek in a rural Illinois corn field more than 60 years ago.

The last time they saw each other they thought they were cousins.

"You know when you're young, adults call each other aunt and uncle to show they're close," Malinowski explained. "We didn't think twice about it."

In May, they learned they are sisters.

"Oh, I can't stop crying," said Texel on Saturday as the two pored over black-and-white photographs in Malinowski's apartment off Fairview Drive.

The ladies were both adopted out when they were little girls. Their birth mother, Mary Virgil Ingram, died in 1940 while giving birth to her 12th child.

Their birth father, Harold Ingram, felt the girls should have a mother.

"It's so late in life to meet your family," Kettlekamp said. "It's a lot to consume at this age."

The discovery was made by Kettlekamp's daughter, Sharon Jackson, who found the connection doing an Internet classmate search.

"She called me one day and said, 'Mom! Sit Down! Sit Down!' And I thought something had happened to my grandkids.'"

As it turned out, Nancy Ellen Ingram had been adopted out to Gladys and Bill Malinowski at the age of three. Her new mother changed her middle name to Lee. She assumed the last name Kettlekamp when she married Mike Kettlekamp in 1979.

Peggy Ann Ingram was adopted by Ernest and Evelyn Cook at age 5.

"They changed my name to Marilyn because they thought Peggy sounded like a nickname."

She assumed the last name Texel when she married Don Texel in 1980.

When the sisters first talked over the phone, they began to discover similarities.

They both lived in Phoenix in 1970, for example.

"We could have passed each other and not known," Kettlekamp said. "We probably did."

They both enjoy breakfast any time of the day, put pepper on their eggs and had breast cancer on their right side.

"And our favorite color is lavender," said Kettlekamp.

"I gave her a bear with a lavender sweater and she gave me a lighter," said Texel, holding it up. "See? Lavender."

In their first hour of physical contact in more than 50 years Saturday, the basket of candy bars on Kettlekamp's coffee table sparked another discovery.

"Butterfingers are my favorite candy," Kettlekamp said.

"Butterfingers are my favorite candy," her sister exclaimed. "We just figured that out this second."

"I mean it just makes your hair stand up some of the stuff we're learning about each other," Kettlekamp said.

Both women were born in the family's small wooden house in Ridge Farm, Ill. where they grew potatoes, tomatoes and corn. Texel brought a Polaroid photo of the old house -- now torn down -- as well as photos of their parents' gravestones. She said she has faint memories of their mom's fried cabbage, fried green tomatoes and a Sunday treat -- fresh fried chicken.

"We were very poor, but we ate what we had."

Of the 11 children born to the Ingrams, four are still alive. The other two are Francis Ingram and Lucille Williams who live in Danville, Ill. Texel hopes to organize a visit.

Francis Ingram just turned 77. Kettlekamp, who has never met her brother, went to buy him a card but all the "brother" cards said something about "so nice to grow up with you."

"None of them fit my story," she said. "It's very difficult."

The Texels drove 13 hours Friday to visit Kettlekamp. They have to return to Arizona on Tuesday. For now, the sisters are content just catching up.

"We've got a lifetime to catch up on and we've only got until Tuesday," Texel said.


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