LACKAWANNA, NY - It is Father's Day this weekend, and for the first time ever, a Lackawanna man will mark that day with the knowledge of who his father actually was.
It is an incredible tale, filled with ironic twists, belonging to Bruce Beyer and chronicled for the nation by Buffalo native Erik Brady in a lengthy story published in Thursday’s editions of USA Today.
“I knew I was adopted from the time I can remember,” Beyer told WGRZ-TV on Friday.
And though -- like many adoptees -- he was occasionally curious about his birth parents, Beyer said he never felt any urgency to learn who they were for most of his 68 years.
"I was surrounded by love, absolutely,” said Beyer, in reference to his adoptive parents Robert and Elizabeth Beyer. “I had no reason to go looking.”
That changed more recently when Beyer began to experience heart problems and his cardiologist pressed him on the importance of knowing his family medical history.
Beyer, of course, could not provide that information because he had been adopted shortly after his birth in 1948.
“That was the reason I started looking into this…for medical information. I started out by writing to the New York State Department of Child and Family Services," he recalled.
But that is where many adoptees in New York State in particular run into walls.
“They responded that they had records, but could not divulge them under New York State law,” he said.
However, with the advancements in DNA technology Beyer, like many others in his situation, pursued a path around the system.
A Startling Discovery.
"I spit in a tube and sent it off in the mail,” said Beyer, referring to his submission of a sample of his saliva to Ancestry.com, which keeps a data base of millions who've voluntarily submitted their DNA.
He got results back in short order, listing individuals who, according to their DNA, would be related to him.
“On Christmas day, I talked to a woman we identified as my (half) sister,” he said.
The woman, Kathryn Tipton Burkes, 69, of Watkinsville, Ga., began telling Beyer about the man which DNA revealed had sired them both.
Touching All The Bases.
His name was Joseph Hickls Tipton, a journeyman catcher who spent several years in both minor and major league baseball, and played for the Cleveland Indians when they appeared in and won the 1948 World Series.
“At his one at bat in that World Series, he was struck out by Warren Spahn, who ironically was from Buffalo,” said Beyer.
And -- because of Spahn’s Western New York roots -- he was a favorite among boys from Buffalo in Beyer’s generation, with Beyer being no exception.
Just this past fall the Indians made the World Series for the first time since when Tipton played for them in 1948, and the 2016 World Series was played just a couple of months before Beyer would learn the identity of his birth father.
“It’s just so ironic that I was sitting here in my living room watching the games, and they would flash pictures of the last Cleveland team to make it. I had no idea at the time, but would come to learn soon enough that my father was being shown on the screen,” Beyer said.
Prior to learning the identity of his father, however, Beyer was also learning about his birth mother, as the list of close relatives provided through Ancestry.com also revealed several other “close” relatives, who were not at all related to Tipton.
He contacted two women identified as likely cousins, who told him of their Aunt, Pamela Lazarus, who lived in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
Earl Bruce Lazarus was Beyer’s name as listed on the papers filed in family court when he was adopted by Robert and Elizabeth Beyer.
His cousins told him that in the late 1940’s, when their aunt was 18, she was suddenly and mysteriously sent away for a period of months, for reasons which were part of a family secret of which she never spoke.
In that era, is was not uncommon for young, unwed mothers to leave their home communities to have their babies, and then return.
Lazarus was sent to Buffalo, where she gave birth.
She became pregnant at the same time that Tipton was playing for the minor league team in Wilkes Barre.
Another Ironic Twist.
According to family members, Lazarus herself could trace her lineage back to Revolutionary War times, to Benedict Arnold, which in itself is ironic, as Beyer has been referred to as a “Benedict Arnold” by some.
“Yes, I’ve been called that name,” he said. “I was a draft resistor during the Vietnam War, and fairly well known for that in Buffalo at the time.”
In fact, Bruce Beyer's case was one of the most chronicled in the region during that era, with many news stories published about not only his fleeing the country in 1967, but also of his return to the U.S. after ten years by walking across the Peace Bridge with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who represented him in federal court where the charges against Beyer were eventually dismissed.
This weighed on Beyer’s mind when, in March, his half-sister, Kathryn Tipton Burkes, decided to fly from Georgia to Buffalo to meet him.
“She’s married to a Vietnam veteran who is very proud of his service, and of course I'm a person who opposed the war,” he explained.
“But when she came, she was able to put her arms around me and love me,” Beyer said, his eyes welling with tears. “It was just an amazing experience, and the infinite capacity of love among human beings is just …overwhelming," he said.
A Beautiful Pink Flower.
As moving as that moment was, so too was another when Beyer received a keepsake recently sent to him by relatives on his mother's side: an embroidered cloth ornament--belonging to her, which she made.
Beyer treasures it, along with a letter which he found among his adoptive mother’s personal effects after she passed away in 2002.
It is addressed to the parents of a baby boy, and written by a woman who tells of giving up her son.
The letter expresses gratitude to the adoptive parents for providing the baby all the love he shall ever need, which, the mother concludes, is what she most wished for her son.
As no names appear in the letter, Beyer cannot say with certainty whether it was written by Pamela Lazarus, who died in 2014 at the age of 82, or if it was something Elizabeth Beyer – as an adoptive mother, came across and kept as a reminder of the gift she and her husband gave through taking the child of another into their home, and raising him as their own.
However, Beyer is inclined to believe the letter was sent by his mom shortly after his birth.
He notes a passage where the birth mother refers to the son she gave up as a “beautiful pink flower she once held".
Turning to the ornament he held in his had, Beyer noted that stitched into the cloth….is a pink flower.
“There it is,” he said. “It’s amazing stuff.”