Septuagenarian sweethearts, Karen and Denny Vinar from Northfield, Minnesota, first met and fell in love when they were just 11 and 13 years of age. The then-teen girl fell pregnant at 14 and the two were encouraged to give up their baby for adoption.
Sadly, circumstances kept them apart for over five decades until a chance social media connection began a new chapter in their love story. Together, they relocated their long-lost daughter and wrote a book about their extraordinary journey.
Karen, 75, now credits divine intervention for their reunion. “There could have been so many twists and turns in our lives that would not have allowed us to get back together again,” she told The Epoch Times in an interview. “God meant us to be together.”
“We started off together and we’re gonna end up together,” said Denny, 78.
Karen and Denny were junior and high school sweethearts. The two had fallen in love and it seemed like they would spend a life together. However, things took an unexpected turn.
In the 1950’s, Karen was devastated to fall pregnant out of wedlock, she even considered committing suicide. However, her parents were quite supportive and weren’t “terribly angry,” and they didn’t kick her out of the house.
“They knew I had a problem and they were willing to work with me to work things out,” Karen recalled.
Nonetheless, Karen’s parents were clear that they didn’t want to raise another child. Thus when Denny asked Karen to marry him, her parents didn’t agree as they felt she was too young to start a family of her own.
Then, with the support of their pastor and counselors at Lutheran Social Services in St. Paul, Minnesota, Karen and Denny conceded to giving up their baby for adoption.
Karen was then sent to live in a home for unwed mothers after the school year completed. She lived there for a period of three months with six other pregnant women and a house mother. Denny was allowed to visit just once, accompanied by Karen’s parents.
The teen then gave birth on Aug. 13, 1961, at just 15 years old, and called Denny, who was 17 at that time.
“I called Denny and asked him if he wanted to come to the hospital to see our baby girl and sign the birth certificate, and he said yes,” Karen recalled. “So he came to the hospital and we held our baby girl for maybe an hour or so.”
A photograph of this tender moment and a small card detailing their baby’s birth date, weight, and length were the only mementos the couple walked away with.
Karen then returned to school, while Denny and his family moved away to the Minneapolis area in Minnesota. After that, Denny wrote letters to Karen and even tried calling her up, but Karen’s parents hid his letters and screened his phone calls.
After military duty three years later, Denny showed up at Karen’s door. The two then dated for a period of six months. Eventually, Denny asked for his sweetheart’s hand in marriage, but Karen’s parents objected by threatening to rescind payment for her senior year of college.
The couple then forged separate lives, and Denny had three children from a marriage.
In 2014, when Denny was living in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a friend recommended he join the networking site, LinkedIn. Suddenly inspired, he typed Karen’s name including her maiden name “Lehmann,” and her profile was the third listing. Karen, who was widowed, was at work at her workplace in Everett, Washington, when Denny called to connect.
Reflecting on his call to her workplace, Karen said: “My first thought was that he had some contact with our daughter, for some reason.” Delighted to hear him after almost five decades, her first words on the phone were, “How did you find me?”
As Karen was still at work, the two decided to speak later that evening. Before calling him back, Karen googled her former beau, delighted to discover he still had the “same twinkly blue eyes and nice smile with dimples” as in the early years.
After the conversation, Denny offered to fly to Karen’s home in Seattle, Washington, immediately, but Karen protested, claiming they must first get reacquainted. Ninety days later, on Jan. 20, 2015, Denny finally arrived to meet her.
Karen “ran out of the car,” he recalled, “jumped on me, wrapped her legs around me,” before whispering in her true love’s ear, “Baby, you’re home.” The couple tied the knot just 36 hours later.
In the period of time that followed, the two moved back and forth to visit each other on the weekends, as Denny managed a marketing firm in Eden Prairie. Karen then eventually sold her home and moved to stay with Denny.
It was then that Denny managed to convince his wife to look for their daughter.
Agreeing with Denny, Karen then penned a letter to Lutheran Social Services, and the board of directors agreed to help them. Three weeks later, they found their daughter, Jean Voxland. Initially reticent, it was Jean’s husband who convinced his wife to pursue a reunion.
Karen even remembers one specific phrase near the top of her daughter’s eventual return letter: “Thank you for choosing adoption over abortion.”
On May 31, 2015, the trio shared an emotional reunion at the social services office.
“Her first sentence to us when we walked upstairs .. she said, ‘Now I finally looked like someone,'” said Denny. “She has my smile,” added Karen, “but everything else looks like Denny.”
Denny and Karen learned that Jean had grown up in a loving adoptive family, and has three children and several grandchildren. She lives just 23 miles away from her birth parents in the town of Northfield, so they visit once or twice a week.
Since their reunion, the family has even penned a memoir together: “How did you find me … after all these years?” They have been interviewed by television host Steve Harvey and featured in several European documentary adaptations of their remarkable, decades-long journey.
As for Denny and Karen, their love is as strong as ever. They dance, cycle, and cook together. They have fun, “an awful lot of fun,” said Denny, and talk often of their feelings.
“I told Karen that we have to take the 18-inch journey, and she said, ‘What’s the 18-inch journey?'” Denny explained. “I said, ‘From your head to your heart.’ That’s important, when you speak from your heart.”