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Photo opens link to lost family

The day before Father's Day, Lou Brehm's picture was in The Buffalo News -- he was one of several laid-off Erie County workers who were profiled -- and a number of people phoned him to say they saw it.

So when his wife, Jacquie, told him during their evening walk about yet another call, Brehm didn't pay any particular attention.

" 'No, this call was different,' " she told her husband. " 'This was from the son-in-law of your half brother.' "

Brehm stopped: He didn't have a half brother. At least he didn't have one that he knew about.

He rushed back home to return the call, and it didn't take long for Brehm to believe that he, in fact, did have a half brother, Bill Barrett.

"After one or two minutes of conversation, there was no doubt in my mind," Brehm said. "Everything just fell into place."

Months later, the Brehm family and the Barrett family are still catching up with a chunk of their mutual histories.

As family members gathered recently at the Barrett family's summer place on Buffalo Creek in Wales, the easy flow of conversation made it clear that the union has been a positive one for both families.

Both credit Brehm's picture in The News and the persistence of Barrett's daughter and son-in-law, Carolyn and Ernie Scheer, as the catalysts for the discovery.

The Scheers first suspected there might be a family secret after the death of Barrett's mother, Carrie Weidow Barrett, in 1973.

As the grandchildren were going through her personal effects, they came across a faded newspaper clip -- a 1946 obituary for a man named Devere Bill Brehm.

But Barrett had suspicions years before. The man whom he believed to be his father, George Barrett, had remarried after the death of his mother. "His new wife started to tell my brothers and sisters about me not being a Barrett," he said.

When the obituary surfaced, "that's the first time I thought that it might be true," Barrett said.

Checking locally for the Brehm name in the early 1990s, the Scheers quickly came upon Lou Brehm and his brother, Bill. "We looked up [Lou's] name and number but never got the courage to call," Carolyn Scheer said.

They knew Devere Bill Brehm played piano, though, and the photo of Lou Brehm in The News showed him playing piano in the lobby of Roswell Park Cancer Institute. "The piano caught my attention, because [his] father was a piano player," Carolyn Scheer said. When she looked at the face, she saw an immediate resemblance to her father.

The Scheers said they agonized over whether to call Brehm. "We didn't know if it was going to cause trouble," Ernie Scheer said.

Ultimately, Ernie Scheer said, he picked up the phone and called. "I thought maybe he'd think it was a scam," he said.

Jacquie Brehm said she was stunned when she picked up the call and heard Scheer's suspicion.

"He had all these facts," she said. "I thought it was very interesting."

She told Scheer she was pretty sure her husband would call back, and she was right.

"I'm too nosy," Lou Brehm said with a laugh. "I had to call."

Brehm said he figured there might be something to the story when Carolyn Scheer asked if his father was from St. Marys, Pa.

"That was kind of the clincher," he said. "That was a very small town at the time, and it would have been too much of a coincidence for me not to be related."

Bill Barrett was the product of a relationship between Carrie Weidow and Devere Brehm -- neither married at the time. Carrie Weidow eventually married George Barrett, and the couple raised Bill as their son.

It turned out there was another connection between the Weidows and the Brehms.

"One of my cousin's nieces from St. Marys is married to a Weidow, and they go to the Weidow family reunion every year," he said. "We were were able to fill in some of the pieces of the story through the family."

Brehm and Barrett have since discovered they both shared careers in aerospace, at about the same time. Brehm worked at Bell Aerospace, and Barrett at Moog.

"He's a nice, easygoing person," said Brehm, who said the same applies for the Barrett family. "I feel like I've known them my whole life. They're very easy to talk to, much like the relatives I knew from St. Marys."

Barrett said his half brother is also easy to talk to. "He's quite outgoing," he said. Brehm is working on a larger family reunion, which would involve his and his brother's children, but he said he already has warm feelings for his new family.

"It's really cute," he said. "My new nieces' kids call me Uncle Louis. Actually, Carolyn does, too."

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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