Davenport man finds relatives after 77 years

By Dustin Lemmon | Thursday, July 05, 2007

Many stories have been told about relatives meeting after decades without ever knowing about each other, but Bob Spragg, of Davenport, thinks the 77 years it took to find his cousins could be a record.

Spragg’s mother, who was 20 when he was born, gave birth to him out of wedlock in Iowa City in 1930. Spragg was 9 years old when he found out his father actually was his stepdad, but for decades he never cared to know much about his biological father, including his name, because he never knew him.

It turned out that Spragg’s mother was a housekeeper in Oelwein, Iowa, for his father, Marion Ross, who was 37 at the time of his birth. Spragg suspects the two had an affair that led to his mother almost giving him up for adoption before his grandfather, who was upset with his mother for getting pregnant, decided to take them in.

“We don’t know to this day that he knew that she was pregnant,” Spragg said of his father. “I can’t believe that the few months that she was there (working) that he didn’t know.”

Spragg took his last name from his mother’s family. On his birth certificate it appeared his last name was left blank until someone later filled it in with a different pen and penmanship. He suspects it was his grandfather who gave him the name.

It’s only been within the past 20 years that Spragg became curious about his origins and unknown relatives he might have.

About three weeks ago Spragg’s half brother, Dale Wilken, of Marion, Iowa, who is his mother and stepfather’s son, became involved. Wilken, a professional genealogist, asked Spragg if he was ready to find out more about his father.

Wilken began doing research, and within a few days, he made contact with a woman in Tennessee who turned out to be Spragg’s niece. She and her sister in Kansas City, Kan., are the daughter’s of his half brother, Marion Ross Jr., who was 17 when Spragg was born and never knew he had a sibling. The half brother died in 2005.

The nieces, Glenda Baker and Naomi Dotson, drove to Davenport last week to meet Spragg and his wife, Peggy Spragg. They shared photos and stories about their grandfather and Spragg’s brother.

“I think this is one of the biggest shocks of my life to find a family after 77 years,” Spragg said. “It gives me closure.”

Initially, Spragg and Wilken thought he might be a brother to Baker and Dotson, so when Wilken called the women, he told them they had a half brother in Davenport where the Spraggs have lived since 1954. But Spragg pulled out his birth certificate a few days later and spotted his father’s age, so he called the women back and explained he was their uncle.

“I was a little bit skeptical about how they would react,” Spragg said. “They came up immediately and stayed two days.”

The women said they were frustrated to find out what their grandfather had done, but they were excited to learn they had an uncle. They think their grandparents knew about Spragg but thought his mother gave him up for adoption.

Baker, who is 70 and lives in Kansas, said it’s unfortunate that her father never met Spragg.

“My dad would have loved to know of him,” she said. “He looks like my dad’s twin. He’s just such a nice man, and we’re just sorry we didn’t know him sooner.”

Dotson, who is 68 and lives in Tennessee, said she was the one Wilken initially telephoned.

“It was very confusing, and it was really strange, but strange in a good way,” she said. “He looks just like my father.”

Spragg also learned that one of his second cousins, William Schutte, lives a few blocks away from him and works with his son. Spragg had previously met him when he bought a police scanner from Schutte.

Spragg noted that for several years he didn’t even know his biological father’s name. His mother eventually told his wife, who later told him.

Peggy Spragg said she’s happy for her husband and the relatives he’s now meeting, but she still wishes he’d tried earlier to find them.

“I felt to me, he should have pursued it a lot sooner,” Peggy said.

Spragg said his biological father died in the 1950s long before he ever thought about trying to meet him.

Spragg noted that he has heart problems and worries about his health, but he is thankful to have met his cousins who he plans to visit again.

“I’m still at awe with all of this,” Spragg said. “I just haven’t been able to absorb it.”

Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or dlemmon@qctimes.com.

Those who want to know more about Bob Spragg’s research into his family history can visit his Web site at home.att.net/~rspragg/spraggmain.html.

From the Quad City Times - 7-5-2007