When a high school athlete and his first love, a cheerleader, were separated by circumstances, they had far more to contend with than their broken hearts as the then-teen girl was pregnant and had given the baby up for adoption.
Fifty years later, that very same baby—now a mom of two named Laura Mabry—would meet her birth parents, Joe Cougill and Donna Horn, for the very first time, and in doing so would bring the high school sweethearts back together.
“We were first loves,” Joe recalled, as he told his story to The Indianapolis Star. “She was all I wanted, and I was all she wanted.”
As a freshman, Joe was Franklin Central High School’s starting varsity quarterback, becoming the school’s star baseball pitcher the following year. Donna was a beautiful sophomore cheerleader. The couple initially didn’t see each other much and were given only 10 minutes to talk to each other on the phone every evening. The teen in love would try to find a quiet spot in the house so that no one could hear their feelings. On some Saturdays, the two would hang out at one of their houses.
Back then, Donna also attended as many of Joe’s games as she could, and the young lovers were blissfully happy for two years.
However, at the beginning of April 1968, their families hit the brakes on the relationship when Donna fell pregnant. According to Joe, his father reassured Donna’s parents that the star athlete would support Donna in whatever she chose to do.
Meanwhile, Donna’s father wanted Joe out of the picture. Devastated, the young couple conceded to their parents.
The Horns were already planning to move in the fall of Donna’s senior year. “People just assumed I moved away,” Donna recalled.
The young mom gave birth at Community East Hospital in Indianapolis on Nov. 5, 1968, also Joe’s 17th birthday. The baby girl was placed in Donna’s arms by mistake for 30 minutes; even though she had planned to have no contact, to make relinquishment easier.
“That has haunted me,” she admitted.
Elsewhere, Joe kept his head down. His athletic career continued to shine bright, taking him to Indiana State where he played college football. But he always thought of Donna and the emotional trauma she was going through.
However, unbeknownst to Joe, Donna had given up the baby girl for adoption.
Meanwhile, Laura grew up in a happy adoptive family and attended Franklin Central High School, just like her birth parents, and she always wondered about them. “[A]s an adopted person, you always grow up thinking, ‘I don’t really look like my family,'” she pondered.
However, Laura’s search efforts were thwarted by limitations in technology, and then, life just got in the way. The young woman then started her family in Arkansas, giving birth to her son in 1995 and her daughter three years later.
In 2019, Laura’s husband gifted her a 23andMe genetic testing kit as he found her tearing up at TLC’s “Long Lost Family,” as people were reunited with their biological relatives. After the test, she soon discovered she had an uncle with the last name Horn, and an aunt: Donna’s sister. Laura contacted them both and was floored when Donna herself replied.
“I just could not believe it. I had been waiting all these years,” Laura marveled.
Donna put Laura in contact with Joe, yet incredibly, they were already connected. Laura’s best friend from high school had married Joe’s nephew.
Since losing Donna, Joe had married and divorced twice. By 2019, he was single with two children, working at Walmart. Whilst Donna, too, married twice and lost her second husband to cancer in 2011. By 2019, Donna was a breast cancer survivor and a single woman once again.
Laura sent her birth father a text message. “I don’t know how to lob this to you but I think you’re my biological father,” she wrote. “I don’t want anything from you, I just want to find out where I came from.”
Joe was dumbfounded. Having promised to sever contact with Donna in high school, he had never known how her pregnancy transpired but always wondered if he had a girl or a boy.
When the shock had subsided, the father and daughter connected over the phone. Laura recalled Joe’s touching first words: “Oh gosh, if you look anything like Donna I bet you’re so pretty.”
After hearing the story of how she came to be and learning of her birth parents’ heartbreaking separation, Laura decided to put her estranged mother and father back in touch. After 50 years apart, their love was rekindled in an instant.
“We saw each other and we hugged each other and we cried,” said Joe. “We knew. We knew. You know what I mean?”
Finally, Joe and Donna got married in May 2020.
Laura not only finally found what she was looking for, but also helped complete a beautiful love story.
“It really does feel good to be part of,” she said.