Adopted in infancy, man reunites with big family Siblings had lived nearby for years

April 26, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

For 65 years, Andrew Fleischmann's brothers and sisters knew he lived nearby. But they didn't know exactly where, nor had they seen even a picture of him for 48 years.

For his part, he didn't even know they existed.

Mr. Fleischmann didn't learn until October that he had been given up for adoption after his mother died when he was 14 months old. His natural father, who worked at a South Baltimore chemical plant, had six older children and decided he could not care for the boy.

Yesterday, Mr. Fleischmann, who was born in 1925 as Andrew Knell, made up for lost time with five of his older siblings and three of his four younger half-brothers and sisters over lunch at the 4100 Club in Brooklyn Park.

"For all those years, to think I was an only child -- I had always wished I had brothers and sisters -- but to think that and then suddenly find out I'm related to this whole mob, it was a shock," said Mr. Fleischmann, who was raised by Leonard and Myrtle Fleischmann at Cottage Grove Beach in Pasadena.

His natural father, John Knell, remarried about a year after the boy had been adopted, recalled Lillian Knell Conaway, 79, Mr. Fleischmann's oldest sister. But "little Andrew" -- who grew up to be the tallest of the family -- was never forgotten.

They kept tabs on him as best they could, sharing whatever they heard about him or whenever they thought they might have seen him. Mrs. Conaway said she still has the newspaper story and picture about Mr. Fleischmann, then 19 and serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for shooting down several Japanese planes.

"We often asked when little Andrew was coming back," said Mrs. Conaway of Rosedale. "My dad just said this man and woman were going to raise him for a while and left it at that. Well, now he's back."

Even after the children grew into adults, his siblings never approached their brother. "We were depending on his adoptive mother telling him," Mrs. Conaway said.

Finally, last year, they began to track him down.

They knew the Fleischmanns had lived in Pasadena, but lost track of Andrew after his adoptive father -- who had worked at the General Chemical Company off Hanover Street where Mr. Fleischmann's father worked -- died and his adoptive mother remarried. They also knew that he had worked for Procter & Gamble as a truck dispatcher, because a nephew had worked with him before Mr. Fleischmann retired.

They finally tracked him down through the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Last Oct. 10, Mr. Fleischmann's 67th birthday, his youngest half-brother, John, called him on the telephone and arranged to meet him at a McDonald's on Fort Smallwood Road.

"He said 'I think you're my brother,' " Mr. Fleischmann remembered. "I said, 'What are you talking about? I don't have any brothers or sisters.' But as soon as he said the name John Knell, I remembered my [adoptive] parents talking about a John Knell down at the plant who worked with my [adoptive] father."

"We recognized him as a Knell as soon as he walked in the door" of the McDonald's, said his half-sister, Irene Bates of South Baltimore.

Andrew's wife shook her head in disbelief yesterday as the family swapped stories about the number of times her husband had unwittingly crossed paths with his siblings. Most of them still live in Baltimore; four live in Arnold, Elvaton, Chelsea Beach and Point Pleasant.

A couple of his sisters bowl at the same alley they do on Fort Smallwood Road, Mrs. Fleischmann said.

"It's unbelieveable how close this family came to crossing paths and still never met," she said. "It seems the whole family likes to bowl."

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