Sweethearts reunited, married by son whose birth separated them

August 16, 1991|By Beverly Bartlett | Beverly Bartlett,Louisville Courier-Journal

TULLAHOMA, Tenn. -- The baby that tore two Kentucky teen-agers apart 25 years ago united them in marriage earlier this month.

Mark Kitts, now a 24-year-old minister, officiated at the wedding of his birth parents on Aug. 3, only a few weeks after his search for the couple prompted them to speak to each other for the first time since his mother learned she was pregnant 25 years ago.

"I've always been in love with him," Karen Caldwell said yesterday of her high school sweetheart and new husband, Roger Caldwell. "I've never been in love with anyone else."

But the relationship could not always be summed up so simply.

It became complicated in 1966 when she was Karen Waterfill, a 15-year-old Western High School cheerleader and "one of the prettiest girls in school," said Roger Caldwell, who had been an honor student and a basketball player at the same school and was then a freshman at the University of Kentucky.

They had dated for about two years and "were just pretty much in love," in the words of John Ellis, a mutual friend. Sometimes they even talked of marriage, they said.

But then everything changed: "We didn't talk after she got pregnant," Mr. Caldwell said.

That's when other people started talking. Karen's mother told Roger to stay away from her daughter. Karen, who told her mother even then that she would always love Roger, went away to a Lexington home for unwedmothers. On Sept. 11, 1966, she gave birth to a boy.

"I remember him crying, but I never got to hold him," she said. The baby was adopted within a week.

Each year, Karen marked his birthday by taking long drives by herself. "I've had some bad, bad Septembers," she said.

A few months after the birth, Roger Caldwell, who did not know the child's birth date or sex, married another woman, joined the Air Force and left town. But he told his wife, whom he divorced in 1988 after they raised two children together, that he really loved someone else.

Karen eventually would say the same thing to two husbands.

About six months after the baby was born, Karen returned to the home to ask about him. They would tell her only that he had been adopted by "good people."

They were Gene and Linda Kitts of Lexington, who adopted their second son, a baby they named Mark. In all, the Kittses, who now live in Louisville, where Gene Kitts is the pastor of the Clifton Heights Christian Church, have six children -- five of whom are adopted and three of whom have found their birth parents.

It was a search that the Kittses supported, said Linda Kitts, who has often wondered about the women who gave birth to her children.

Meanwhile, Karen and Roger forged separate futures with an eye on their past.

They had each quizzed John Ellis about how the other was doing. Roger occasionally drove by Karen's house, hoping she would be outside. Karen got dressed to go to the visitation after Roger's mother died, but then changed her mind.

"I don't think either one of us wanted to interfere with the other's life," Roger said.

But early this year, another pregnancy changed all that.

Mark's wife, Dee Dee, is expecting a baby in October, and that made Mark, who is working on a master's degree in divinity at Cincinnati Bible College & Seminary, start thinking about his own birth.

He obtained a court order so the state Cabinet for Human Resources could track down his natural mother and see whether she wanted to talk to him, said cabinet spokesman Brad Hughes.

The cabinet found Karen Williams, who was married and living in Frankfort. She eventually agreed to meet Mark Kitts and to see whether Roger Caldwell would meet him as well.

So in June of this year, she called Roger in Tullahoma, Tenn., where he is director of sales and marketing for Life Sensing Instruments Co. Inc. He sells an instrument that he helped create to monitor intensive-care patients' hearts.

She left a message, and when he saw whom it was from, he got nervous and "weak-kneed."

"I said, 'Are you sure that's who she said she was?' " he recalled.

But he returned the call, and they agreed to meet June 22 to discuss Mark's request. Roger came to Kentucky and picked Karen up. After she was in his car for five minutes, she says now, she knew "we were in trouble."

The couple cried and talked, then began seeing each other every day.

Their relationship went so smoothly that when they met Mark on July 2, he thought, "Wow, this is odd. This couple really gets along well."

Karen said it was like giving birth to Mark all over again. Only this time Roger was by her side.

She seems to have mixed feelings about whether she and Roger should have married 25 years ago and raised Mark themselves. At first, she said they should have. But then she started talking about Mark and how well he turned out. "I don't know if we could have done that for him," she said.

Karen Caldwell, who has a 22-year-old daughter and a grandchild living in Frankfort, quit her job in Kentucky to marry Roger and move to Tennessee.

The way to their wedding was by no means clear. He was reluctant to pursue the relationship because she was married. But Karen filed for divorce -- something she says she had been considering anyway -- and then Roger asked her to marry him.

On Aug. 3, three days after the divorce became final, Mark officiated at the couple's wedding in Covington, Ky.

During the emotional ceremony, Mark did not linger on thoughts of what his life would have been like had these people married 25 years before.

"I've been very happy with my life," he said this week. "I don't wish it was different. We're trying to build a relationship on the future, not the past."

The future may begin Sept. 11, 1991, when Mark will turn 25 and celebrate with his parents, Gene and Linda Kitts, and with his parents, Roger and Karen Caldwell.

Karen will not need to take any long drives alone.

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