How The Baby They Gave Up 50 Years Ago Reunited These High School Sweethearts

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By: Lindsey Charleston | Published: Dec 28, 2022

Karen Lehmann and Dennis Vinar were young and in love in 1950s Minnesota. When Karen became pregnant, they wanted to get married. However, circumstances beyond their control got in their way.

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Heartbroken, Karen and Dennis were forced to give up their baby. The two went their separate ways, never forgetting about each other but unable to reconnect. It wasn’t until 50 years later that fate brought them back together.

Young Love, Forbidden Love

Do you still remember your first love? Apparently, Dennis Vinar and Karen Lehmann found it difficult to forget each other. They met while in high school and quickly fell head over heels in love. They probably imagined that they would never be able to forget each other.

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Besides being each other’s first, they also had to go through what many would consider quite unthinkable nowadays. They were forced to part ways despite their deep feelings for each other.

A Star Football Player

Dennis Vinnar was a determined and hardworking teenager who never let anything stand in his way. Not even childhood illness stopped him from fulfilling his dream to become a football player in high school. He was active in sports and popular with his peers.

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Eventually, he became popular with the ladies. However, his attention was focused on one girl alone. His eyes were set on Karen. Back then, he believed no one could come between them. When you’re young, it can feel as though anything is possible.

A Talented Clarinet Player

Just like Dennis, Karen Lehmann was also focused, determined, and hardworking. Unlike him, she prioritized her studies and music above her social life. While Dennis Vinar was popular and active in sports, Karen was more reserved and dedicated to her passions.

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She was an accomplished clarinet player and was on track to being accepted into college early. Despite their differences, Karen and Dennis shared a strong work ethic. They also developed a deep love for each other.

Growing Up In The 1950s

Karen was 13 when she met 15-year-old Dennis. It was 1958, and the two were instantly drawn to each other. However, Dennis didn’t act on his feelings because of Karen’s shy and quiet demeanor. But they eventually got to know each other and started a relationship.

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Many of Karen’s classmates at Brownton High School were shocked. The girls in the school were particularly jealous that one of the school’s star football players was interested in someone who was not considered one of the popular students.

Smitten With Each Other

During their courtship, Dennis made a conscious effort to show Karen how much he cared for her. He walked her home from school every day, even if it meant being late for football practice. He also carried her clarinet. It was clear that Dennis was deeply smitten with Karen, and Karen felt the same.

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However, their relationship suddenly faced a hurdle that no person would ever want to face. Even Karen and Dennis didn’t expect to deal with such a problem early on in their relationship.

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Dealing With Teen Pregnancy

Karen was only 15 when she discovered she was pregnant. Dennis, despite his age, decided to do what he felt in his mind and heart was right—he proposed to Karen. However, her parents didn’t let him proceed.

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Karen’s parents felt they were simply too young to be together. Eventually, Karen’s parents did what was considered to be the normal thing back then—she was sent to a maternity home. This was a place where unwed and young mothers delivered their babies.

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Pretending That Nothing Happened

Being an unwed mother was a significant stigma in the 1950s and early 1960s. Many women who became pregnant outside of marriage were sent to maternity homes to have their babies. These children were then given up for adoption.

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After giving birth and being separated from their babies, many young, unwed mothers who were sent to maternity homes were expected to return home and act as if nothing had happened. It seems impossible, but many women were just expected to do it.

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Bouncing Baby Girl

Karen, being a nice girl, followed her parents’ wishes. After giving birth to a bouncing baby girl, she named the infant Denise. The baby’s father, Dennis, knew that Karen named their baby after him. He then signed the birth certificate.

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Before the baby was about to be taken away by social services to be sent for adoption, everyone got to hold the baby. It was the first and last time the couple was going to see their daughter—or so they thought.

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Going Their Separate Ways

Karen and Dennis continued their relationship despite her father’s objections. After high school, they took different paths. Dennis joined the army and was deployed to Germany. Meanwhile, Karen attended college in Minnesota to study interior design.

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Dennis tried to stay in touch with Karen by sending letters to her parent’s house, but her father hid them, and they both believed the other had moved on. But Dennis’s heart was still set on his first love. He didn’t want to give up so easily.

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The Second Proposal

Dennis and Karen reconnected after he returned from the army, and Karen was in her final year of college. Despite the time that had passed, their love for each other was still strong, and they began dating again.

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Six months later, Dennis proposed, but Karen’s father opposed their marriage and threatened to stop paying for Karen’s college tuition if they went through with it. Karen and Dennis had to end their relationship in order to avoid financial hardship.

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Finally Moving On

Dennis felt he did his best to be with the first and only love of his life. However, he realized they just couldn’t be together. Fate apparently had other plans. They had to end the relationship. Karen and Dennis eventually went their separate ways.

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Karen graduated, got married, and had a son, while Dennis also married and had three children. For 50 years, they lived their separate lives and rarely thought of seeing each other. However, a question posed at a party changed all of that.

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The Million Dollar Question

Decades later, Dennis was invited to a party. It was 2014 when a woman suggested that they all take turns answering the question, “If your doctor gave you 60 days to live, who would be the one person you’d like to meet?”

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Most of the people at the party gave the names of politicians, celebrities, or inspiring figures. However, the first person that came to Dennis’s mind was Karen Lehmann. “She was my very first love,” he said at the party.

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Finally Finding Karen

A few days afterward, a friend encouraged Dennis to create a LinkedIn account. Apparently, Karen was still in his mind. He started to search for her name online and recognized her in the third result. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

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While containing his excitement, he reached out to Karen and left a message with her receptionist. He waited patiently for any response. A few minutes later, he received a call back from Karen herself. What a shock!

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Reunited

Karen was surprised to hear from Dennis. He asked her how she was and what she had been up to. They caught up on each other’s lives and discovered that Karen was a widowed mother of an adult son. She was working as an interior designer in Washington state.

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Meanwhile, Dennis was a divorced father of three adults. They were both giddy to hear from each other, as if they were back in high school. They then began a three-month digital courtship.

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Together Again

After months of reconnecting online, Dennis flew to Washington to see Karen in person for the first time in 50 years. Despite their nerves, they immediately embraced each other when they saw each other. All their memories came flooding back.

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They stayed up all night reminiscing about their past romance. Eventually, the two of them started to talk about marriage. Karen remembered that Dennis had already proposed twice. She wondered if he would ever ask her again.

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Third Time Lucky

Dennis was adamant about not getting married again, considering that his heart had been broken many times. But Karen was insistent and asked him point blank if he would want to propose again. His answer remained the same.

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He believed that, just like in baseball, one is kicked out of the game after the third strike. He couldn’t risk it. However, Karen presented another perspective and reminded him that the “third time’s the charm.” Dennis thought about it. That evening, they decided to finally get married.

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The Daughter They Gave Up

After finally getting married, Karen moved to Minnesota with Dennis. However, their happiness was short-lived when Dennis remembered their daughter and expressed his desire to find her. He was wondering where she could be and how she was doing after all these years.

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Karen was hesitant about the idea as she was worried about disrupting their daughter’s adult life for the sake of their own curiosity. Despite this, they decided to try and find her together.

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A Complete Family

Dennis was persistent in trying to get Karen to search for their daughter. However, she was resistant every time he brought it up. Eventually, he said, “I found you now, and my life will be complete if we find our daughter.”

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It was only then that Karen was finally convinced to let Dennis contact the adoption agency. Fortunately, the agency was able to locate their daughter quickly, as their biological daughter had recently contacted them to review her file.

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A Letter From A Long Lost Daughter

As it turned out, their daughter was named Jean Voxland. She previously communicated with the adoption agency in order to retrieve any information about her medical history. Oddly, at 56 years old, she never tried to find her biological family.

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However, to her surprise, she got a letter from the adoption agency. It stated that a blood relative was trying to look for her. Initially, she thought it was merely a scam, but her husband convinced her that it might be a legitimate request.

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Tears Of Joy

Eventually, Jean realized it was not a scam at all. The letter from the adoption agency was genuine, as Dennis and Karen wrote it. They also sent along some photos. Jean cried tears of joy upon seeing people who resembled her for the first time in her life.

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All three of them decided to work with the agency and set up a meeting. The process was exciting for everyone, just as it was nerve-wracking. They couldn’t wait to see each other after so many years.

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Biological Family

In May 2016, Jean prepared to meet her biological parents. She was surprised to learn that her biological mom and dad had recently gotten married and that they both wanted to meet her. Dennis and Karen were extremely anxious to see the baby they had not seen since the day she was born.

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Both of them were hoping that Jean, who was also a mother of three, would be able to understand why they had to give her up for adoption. It would take some explaining.

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Getting To Know Each Other

In all of Jean’s life, she never dreamed she’d have the opportunity to meet her biological parents. She especially never thought they would actually be married. She also felt shocked that they would look for her now that she was 54.

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Dennis and Karen learned that the family that adopted Jean was from Minnesota. She grew up in a town called Hayfield. Her family had twice adopted, and she had grown up with a brother. Though her adoptive mother passed away, her father was still alive.

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An Emotional Day

Jean was at a loss for words when she met her biological parents for the first time. She couldn’t say anything and so allowed them to do much of the talking. It was an emotional reunion for all of them.

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It was Dennis, in particular, who talked most during the meeting. He made sure he explained to Jean the context of why they had to give her up at such a young age. He could not help but control his tears as he told the story.

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She Understood Everything

After learning about Dennis and Karen’s past and how her biological grandparents had kept them apart, Jean understood why she was put up for adoption. She was grateful that she had a great childhood with her adoptive family.

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Eventually, Jean, Dennis, and Karen believed that it was fate that brought them back together. It was also a miracle that they were able to find each other. Their story amazed everyone who heard it that they decided to do something many people suggested.

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A Happy Ending

Many people suggested that Jean, Dennis, and Karen turn their story into a book. In 2017, they co-wrote “How Did You Find Me… After All These Years?: A Family Memoir,” which detailed their journey of lost love and reunion.

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In the process, Jean gained four new siblings. Meanwhile, Dennis and Karen gained three new grandchildren as well as some great-grandchildren. Eventually, their family became bigger and a lot happier because they followed the compass of their hearts—and, luckily, they found love.

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