Beryl Ohlson, 80-year-old half brother meet for first time
Beryl Ohlson, of Amherst hugs her half brother, William Stuart, of Ct. who she was meeting for the first time. Ohlson gave him a bow saying he was her Christmas present.
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Beryl Ohlson of Hadley met her half brother, William Stuart of Connecticut for the first time last week at her home.
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Beryl Ohlson, of Amherst hugs her half brother, William Stuart, of Ct. who she was meeting for the first time. Purchase photo reprints »
Beryl Ohlson, of Amherst hugs her half brother, William Stuart, of Ct. who she was meeting for the first time. Stuart holds a picture of his mother though the two have the same father. Ohlson gave him a bow saying he was her Christmas present.
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Beryl Ohlson, of Amherst hugs her half brother, William Stuart, of Ct. who she was meeting for the first time. Back left is Catherine Stuart, William's wife. Purchase photo reprints »
HADLEY — Greeting the half brother she had never met, Beryl Ohlson placed a red bow on his chest and gave him a big hug.
“I can’t believe it,” she said to William Stuart as she introduced herself to him Wednesday outside her home at Greenleaves Family Estates. “You’re my present.”
“The world is full of miracles,” Stuart said.
The emotional meeting between Ohlson, 71, and William Stuart, 80, of Clinton, Conn., took place just days after she received a letter from Stuart asking her to contact him if she knew anything about their father, Bertil.
Ohlson, who had known of Stuart’s existence only from a brief conversation with her mother over 60 years ago, called immediately.
“I think she said, ‘Hello, bro,’ ” said Stuart.
Since their first phone conversation, they have talked at least twice daily.
“We both cry every time we talk,” Ohlson said.
Stuart was born in Malden in 1932, the result of a relationship between Ohlson’s father and a 17-year-old woman, before he married Ohlson’s mother. Stuart, who was named William Bertil Rydell, was given to his mother’s parents in Lynn, who had custody of him until his grandmother died when he was 13. He then spent the rest of his youth with his mother, who changed his last name to Stuart, and other members of her family. He had two half brothers.
Meanwhile, Bertil Ohlson, who went on to have two daughters after his marriage, met with his son three times in the late 1960s. He died in 1972, and it was then that Stuart learned of his two half sisters from Ohlson’s obituary.
“I was hesitant to contact them because they may have never heard of what happened,” Stuart said.
And then other family obligations got in the way — he was married with three children by then — and he didn’t have time to devote to searching for his kin.
When he turned 80 in June, however, he decided it was time to get serious about locating them. “I said, ‘It’s now or never.’ ”
Though he knew from his father’s obituary that Beryl Ohlson had married Pierre Barrette, the article left off the second “e” on her married name, making it more challenging to track her down. Ohlson later remarried, taking another last name, and moved to Florida. She eventually returned to Massachusetts, where she lived in Amherst, and resumed using her maiden name. She raised five children and has lived in Hadley for the past two years. In the meantime, sister Ann had changed her last name through marriage as well, complicating Stuart’s search.
Stuart worked with both online search engines and social media like Facebook and Linkedin, where he found one of Ohlson’s two daughters, Anna-Stina.
“If you know how to use them, it’s hard to hide,” he said.
On Nov. 26, Stuart came to Amherst, went to Town Hall and the Jones Library and found a birth certificate for Ohlson’s other daughter, Kiersten, confirming his belief that he had located one of his half sisters.
The possibility that she had a half brother was not something Ohlson talked about with her children, she said, in part because she wasn’t completely sure he existed. She said her mother had mentioned him when she was 9 years old, but as she moved through teen years and young adulthood, a busy life kept her from giving it much thought.
In addition, she only knew her half brother as William and she figured it would be too difficult to find him without knowing his last name.
Ohlson said she has tried unsuccessfully to reach her sister twice with the news of meeting Stuart, leaving messages at her New Hampshire home.
In preparing for Stuart’s visit, Ohlson got out as many family photos as she could.
Stuart, who brought along his wife, Catherine, presented Ohlson with a book of his own poetry titled “Poetry & Other Things Shortly Said.” Coincidentally, Ohlson has also published poems.
He also showed her his high school graduation photo, in which he shared the same blond hair, and Swedish heritage, her children do.
Stuart said his three children are aware he found his sisters. “They said they are happy us,” Stuart said.
Only Matthew Barrette, Ohlson’s youngest son, was able to be on hand for the gathering Wednesday. A sous chef at Smith College, he prepared a pork roast for the meal.
Barrette said he was interested in seeing what his newfound uncle’s personality was like.
“I’m just curious to see if he behaves the same way” as his sister, Barrette said.
Ohlson was more noticeably excited about the meeting than Stuart.
“I am a stoic person,” Stuart said.
“You were before this,” Catherine Stuart replied.
With 19 grandchildren between them, Stuart said a reunion will be the next event. “I certainly hope to have a reasonably exciting, and reasonably good-sized, reunion,” he said.
“This is the best Christmas present I’ve ever had,” Ohlson said. “I’ve never had a brother, and he’s never had a sister.”