By: Angelia Roberts, Special to the SRC

Rick Slavik spent most of his life asking questions about his birth father only to find no answers.  His mother avoided the topic, his aunt was mum and his grandmother was much more vocal and told him it was not any of his business. He was in his 70s when he decided to join a well-known ancestry website. Two years later, he got a notification that said, “This is your father.” He now had a name: Ray Hall. Rick’s son, Kirk, knew how important it was for his father to find answers, so when his dad called to say he had a piece of the puzzle, they started looking for anyone named Ray Hall that would be in the 90 to 100-year-old age range from the east coast to the west. The never-ending search led to dead-ends until Rick contacted a woman who said her great-uncle was named Ray Hall. Thinking it might be some kind of scam she called her dad and relayed the information to him. Ray was 95 and remembers the life-changing call from his nephew. When he asked when and where he was supposed to have fathered a child, his nephew told him, “Nebraska, 1942.”

“Well, I might be guilty,” Ray told him. 

————In 1942 the United States was still on shaky ground after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That same year, Ray Hall was in the military and stationed in Nebraska. Like a lot of young men, having fun was a high priority. The Hill Hotel in Omaha, with its12-to-15-piece orchestra, was a well-known gathering spot for dancing and meeting girls. Ray fancied himself pretty good at dancing and meeting girls. “Jitterbugging was the thing and I thought I was pretty good at it. When I went to a dance I watched to see if I could find the best jitterbug (dancer)and she had to be pretty good looking,” Ray said laughing. Rick’s mom, Sylvia was in Omaha and going to cosmetology school at the time and was not only good looking, but a better than average dancer. In trying to piece together those long-ago events, Kirk said, “We think this happened Thanksgiving Eve of 42 and he shipped out and went to California the next day or shortly after. There is a possibility there may have been some alcohol involved.” Ray laughed. “I guarantee you there was alcohol involved.”  

————— Had it not been for Ray’s wife Judy, who was adopted and online looking for her own biological family members, the reunion might not have ever taken place. Ray said he told her he would like to get on and she responded that it was silly since he knew all his family, but went ahead added him to the ancestry site. Not long after that was when Ray’s niece got the call from Rick saying he was looking for his birth father. Ray, whose two children had passed away, called Rick, and let him know he had no idea he had a son and was sad to say he did not remember his mother. Rick was ecstatic that he had not only found his father, but he was alive and well. “I’ve been looking for you my whole life,” Rick told him.  

————Their first meeting was filled with a lot of emotions. When Rick and his wife, Debbie, left their home in Kansas and arrived at Lake of the Ozarks the families had an immediate connection. Rick said the first thing he saw when they walked in the door was a box of blue cigars on the kitchen table that said, “It’s a boy.” “It was hilarious. It was emotional then and it still is today.” Rick said some family members were skeptical. When Ray’s grandson, who is also a lawyer, asked him “Who are you?” Ray told him he had no idea, that he just put his DNA in and it popped up. But Rick and Ray never questioned their connection. Ray’s wife even made the comment she did not know how it was possible the two had never met and be so much alike. Ray believes there was a much higher power at work. “This had to be a godly thing for me to put my DNA in at just that time.” 

————Rick was not able to tell his mother that he had found his father, but he did call his aunt Elsie in California.  “Found my dad. His name is Ray Hall.” Oh no, it is not!” she said. “She ended up talking to Ray before she died and they both learned they were at the same plant in California while she was working as Rosie the Riveter.” 

“I know we were there at the same time because of an incident that happened that killed one of the pilots,” Ray said. The family learned Ray left the military and got his private pilot license. While he walked away from two plane crashes, the third left him with a spinal injury. He said the pilot he was riding with was showing off a little bit and they got into a high-speed stall. He also worked for Howard Hughes Oil for 10 years, but never laid eyes on him.  He married, had two children, who are deceased and is now married to his second wife, Judy. Sylvia raised Rick as a single mom and then married when he was 10. She spent her life working as a beautician and became, as Kirk put it, very conservative and almost a prude from the woman Ray Hall would have met in 1942. Rick also learned that his mother believed his real father was a local young man she was dating and that his very influential family paid her to stay out of their lives. The one thing he does not discount is how hard it had to be for his mother living in a small town and being unmarried. “It is a wonderment she didn’t have me aborted or put up for adoption.” 

————It has now been five years since the two families connected.  “I am as close to these two (Rick and Kirk) as I was to my other two.” Ray said Kirk made it clear he had a grandfather and did not need another one, but after sometime asked if it would be alright if he called him grandpa. “I grew up and did not feel like I missed anything, but Dad did not have a father figure. Grandpa died in ’90 and Grand-pa Greenstreet had passed in ’79.” With the connection so strong from the first meeting, the two families stay in close contact and spend quality time together. Their latest family reunion was at Kirk’s residence at LaCrosse in Izard County. “I have got a family here that I have greatly enjoyed. Five years ago, I found my son when he was 75years old. It is still unreal.” The three generations have been able to find humor in their stories and connections. Rick said his advice would be, “Don’t put your DNA in there if you have any secrets.”