They were brother and sister and had lived in the same town for decades, but had never met. Finally, Rees spoke.
“I haven’t seen you in 46 years,” Rees said. “So … how have you been?”
Cedarholm smiles as she tells the story of that moment Nov. 5, 2009, when she finally met Rees, one of four half-brothers and sisters she did not know existed until this fall.
“You know, I did not grow up with a longing or a hole in my heart,” Cedarholm said. “I had a wonderful home, a wonderful upbringing, a wonderful life. This was not something I pined for. This is just a new chapter and a vivid illustration of how God is in charge and I’d better never have trouble with that issue again.”
Life with the Cedarholms
Charlotte came to live with Maranatha founder Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm and wife Thelma on Aug. 10, 1965, her fifth birthday. Cancer would claim Eunice Melford, Charlotte’s 39-year-old mother and Thelma’s younger sister, about six weeks later. Her father, Daymon Hugh Rees, would die of a heart attack in another 14 months.
Few memories from Charlotte’s early childhood remain. The Cedarholms told their adopted daughter as much as they knew, but they barely knew Rees, a truck driver and farmer from the Pekin, Illinois, area. He had been divorced about 15 years when he met Eunice while she was working at the soda fountain at a Woolworth’s department store.
“I think they were together seven or eight years,” Cedarholm said. “Most of the relatives thought they were married. Eunice was not supposed to be able to have children, so I came as quite a surprise.”
The Rees children were all grown when Daymon surprised them by appearing with Eunice and baby Charlotte. Daymon and Eunice eventually settled in Stanford, Illinois. The Rees children always remembered the little blonde baby, but Charlotte grew up believing she was an only child.
A final request
Eunice Melford was diagnosed with cancer in June of 1965. Two months later, as her health continued to fail, Eunice called her older sister, Thelma, and asked her to take little Charlotte and raise her.
“I would stay with the Cedarholms for a week or two at a time when I was little, and Thelma was the beloved auntie,” Charlotte said. “I remember sitting on the steps one day and asking her, ‘Can I call you mommy, because, really, you are my mommy?’ It was my Aunt Thelma who picked out my name.
“She had prayed for a child for years. When (Eunice) gave me to her sister, she did so very kindly and out of great love for me.”
Charlotte did not attend her mother’s funeral. Daymon Rees told the Cedarholms that day he believed it would be impossible for him to raise his daughter to adulthood. A few weeks later, a relative from the Rees family was on their way to pick up Charlotte. When they arrived, she was already gone. Two pastors from Minnesota had volunteered to bring Charlotte with them from her uncle’s house near the Twin Cities to Owatonna. Dr. Cedarholm, who had just become president of Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, accepted their offer. Charlotte arrived in the middle of the night to a freshly decorated bedroom and a closet full of presents from the college students.
God’s perfect timing
Charlotte moved with her new family to Watertown in 1968 and grew up asking only occasional questions about her birth parents. Her life was full of travel and formal events and “torturing” hundreds of big brothers and sisters on the Maranatha campus.
“I know God orchestrated every detail of my life,” Cedarholm said. “I don’t know what my life would have been like with my other family. It may have been very happy. But I believe God wanted me right where He put me.”
The Rees children wondered what had happened to the little blonde baby, and the discussion often came up during family reunions. Those questions remained unanswered, however, until the fall of 2009.
A startling message
Charlotte happened upon the GenForum website in September of 2003. Her curiosity about the life of her birth father led her to post on the forum. But, when months passed and no reply came, she forgot about the post and moved on.
Years later, she returned.
In June of 2009, Shelly Jones posted a reply to Charlotte’s post that indicated she was familiar with the people mentioned and could answer her questions. Jones is the granddaughter of Daymon’s brother, Holly. Charlotte, however, did not see the post until August. She happened upon the GenForum site again while researching another subject.
“I sent (Jones) a set of questions only family members would know, like what color hair (Daymon) had and what happened to it,” Cedarholm said. “She knew that he had bright red hair, but it had turned white overnight when his mother died.”
An instant messenger conversation ensued, which included this message from Jones: “Oh, by the way, you have siblings.” Jones helped Cedarholm with research about those siblings and other relatives.
Dorothy, a half-sister now living in Florida, saw Cedarholm’s post on GenForum. She and son Frank both sent messages that told Charlotte her half-brother lived in Watertown. That led to Edwin Rees making his surprise visit to Cedarholm’s Watertown business, Josephine’s Paper Box.
“He looked exactly like my birth father,” Cedarholm said. “On his second visit, he brought two pictures with him. One was of our birth father and one was of me—the same one I have at home. It was a very nice conversation, but I didn’t know if I should hug him or what I should do.”
A new group of relatives
Cedarholm and her newfound half-siblings and relatives continue to correspond and hope to get together in the future. Edwin, who moved from Chicago to Watertown in 1973, is 77. Dorothy is 74. Lillian is 71 and lives in Oklahoma. Barbara is 62 and lives in Chicago.
“Next summer, if we can get together, I will be ‘the find,’ ” Cedarholm said. “It should be a lot of fun, and I’ll have a lot to tell them about God being in charge of the details of our lives, both big and little.
“I heard a preacher say once, ‘We are all about time, but God is all about timing,’ and that is very true. His timing, all through my life, has been just perfect.”