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Lost and found

The headline on the ad read simply: DO YOU KNOW MY SON? Vernon Baker, an aging father from Indiana, hadn't seen his 39-year-old son since the boy was 6. A call to Colorado Springs directory assistance put him in touch with the Colorado Springs Independent, a publication he'd never heard of, where he spoke to a classified ad representative named Paul, who helped him craft his ad.

Placed prominently in the Backside section of the paper, it drew lots of eyes, including those of someone who knew Vernon Baker's son and alerted him to the ad.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, the estranged son called his father, and they spoke for the first time in 33 years.

"Gosh, it was like winning the lottery," Baker says. "But you couldn't put a dollar sign on that. I was so glad and happy. We talked the first night around an hour, then the next night, I called him back. He remembered a lot of things."

As Baker tells it, he was married to his son's mother before military service took him to Vietnam. His son was born in 1966. After nine and a half months in country, Baker returned to his wife and child, and her children from a previous marriage, whom he had adopted. But while he was in Vietnam, "things happened the wrong way."

"I tried to get our family together, but it didn't work out," he says.

Baker was with his son some of the time, until he was 6. Then, Baker's ex-wife remarried, moved the family from Indiana to Colorado and cut all ties with her former spouse.

"I never got to send Christmas gifts or anything," says Baker, though his mother touched base with the estranged family once or twice a year until she passed away.

The years passed -- some flying, some dragging -- and Baker's life took him to Texas. He knows now that at one point in the 1980s, his son was training in the Coast Guard and, every day, passed just two and a half miles from his house. Baker says not a day went by when he didn't think of his boy.

Eventually, Vernon Baker returned to Indiana and retired near Rockville, just west of Indianapolis. At 60, he has lots of health problems, including diabetes, sleep apnea and arthritis.

"I've been on disability since '95," he says, "but I used to work circles around guys 20 years younger than me."

Over the past 10 years, Baker stepped up efforts to locate his son. He asked friends to run Internet searches, and came across several men who shared his son's name, including one he's kept in touch with over the years. Meanwhile, he says, his son had looked for him down in Louisville, but came across so many Vernon Bakers that he couldn't single out the one who was his father.

Vernon Baker passes his time now working on his piece of rural land, located on a quiet dead-end street near a lake. Last summer, some Amish boys from the area helped him build a covered bridge over a gulley on his property. He's making videotapes of the barn, the bridge, the lake and the house to send to his son and two newly discovered granddaughters, in hopes they'll come to Rockville for a visit before his health and good luck run out. He hopes to reunite with the children he adopted so many years ago, too, but is leaving it up to them to decide whether to contact him.

"They're grown-ups," he says. "They've got to sort things out in their own minds."

Meanwhile, he's gathering all the photographs he has kept for more than 30 years, to show his children that he never forgot them, in spite of his long absence from their lives.

Finding his son, he says, "sure took care of a vacant spot in my heart. It really filled it up."

Now, Vernon Baker spends his days looking forward to the time when he will see his son again, and maybe his granddaughters and the other kids. He says the idea of putting an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper came to him in a dream, which he usually wouldn't put much stock in.

"Life is short," he muses. "You've got to do what you got to do while you're living. Whatever I've got left, I know now I'll enjoy.

"I'm not a religious man," he adds, "but when I got his phone call, I went out on the porch and looked up at the sky and thanked God for the answer to my prayers."

-- kathryn@csindy.com

  • Lost and found

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