Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Baby Hope Comes Home. A 39-Year Journey of Love

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Baby Hope Comes Home. A 39-Year Journey of Love

Article excerpt

First, her name was Baby Girl Jane Doe.

It was Aug. 19, 1977. Just a few hours old, she was dropped off at St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles County by a man who said he was flagged down at mile marker No. 224 on Interstate 70 by a young couple in a gray van. They handed him a 7-pound baby wrapped in a blanket and took off, he said.

Soon, she would have a new name: Baby Hope.

That's the name Bob and Nella Higgins gave her when they brought her home. The couple had just become foster parents. They didn't plan to take in infants, but when the Division of Family Services called with a placement, they agreed. They fell in love with Hope, and they tried to adopt her.

"After one week, I said: 'I want this baby,'" Nella recalled.

Nella is 78 now. Bob is 84. We were talking in their kitchen this month, flipping through an old photo album of Hope's first 10 months of life.

She is 39 now and lives in Perry, Mo., with her husband and two children.

Her name is Amber Wankel. This is her story.


On June 5, Wankel made a discovery that changed her life.

For some time, she had been engaged in a search for her birth parents. Like many adoptees, she yearned for more information about her past. It wasn't like she had a bad childhood in fact, it was very good but there were unanswered questions.

Wankel was reared in Curryville, Mo., by Lee and Trudie Wankel. She graduated from Bowling Green High School in 1995. She went to college and got a job in the medical field. She knew the Wankels had adopted her when she was less than a year old, and that the foster family who first took care of her went to court to try to keep her. But details were scarce.

"It was a part of my life that I really didn't know a lot about," Wankel says.

A DNA search hadn't helped much in identifying her birth family. Her blond hair and blue eyes give away her German heritage. But the closest relatives she could find through a DNA database were distant cousins. She turned to Google and newspaper archive searches. There, Wankel came across a story headlined: "Couple Denied Custody of Foster Child" in the April 26, 1979, edition of the Post-Dispatch. It was written by none other than Joseph Pulitzer IV, scion of the famous newspaper family.

The story recounts how the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the Higginses in an adoption battle with the state of Missouri. A split court decided to keep the former ward of the state with her second foster family, in part because the Wankels had cared for Amber since she was about 10 months old.

The day after Wankel read the newspaper article, she Googled "Robert and Nella Higgins." Dozens of possibilities showed up. She got it right on the first call.

Nella answered. She yelled to Bob, who was watching television in the other room.

Hope had been found.

"I couldn't believe it," Bob said. …

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