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A newly opened door: Long-lost relatives connect at retirement community Revel Spokane

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 3, 2021

Until two months ago, Anna Havercroft never knew she had a great-Uncle Bill. While at her job, a simple question revealed a long-lost relative living not far from her desk. Now, she’s focused on building a relationship severed 40 years ago.

Havercroft, 39, started in July as lifestyle director at Revel Spokane, a retirement community. That’s also where Bill Young, 91, is a resident. As she eased into her role arranging activities, she and Young had talked several times. One day, he noticed her last name on business cards and asked if she was related to other Havercrofts.

“I didn’t know that Bill was my great-uncle until he recognized my last name,” said Havercroft, who learned she’d never known of him because of a divorce four decades ago. “He had been at the concierge’s desk, saw my business card, and he put two and two together.”

“He said, ‘Are you related to Bill and Dawna Havercroft?’ ” I said, ‘Yes I am; they’re my grandparents.’ I asked how he knew them, and he said, ‘I was married for 20 years to your great-aunt.’ ” “I didn’t know that she had a previous marriage; they were divorced before I was born.”

Before the divorce, the couple had three children, Havercroft said. As a child in Spokane, she only knew of another man as her great-uncle without being aware that her great-aunt had remarried. She grew up knowing her great-aunt’s children as cousins, but by then, Young was estranged from the Havercroft family, she said.

Soon after she learned of family connections to Young, she turned to her parents to ask about him. “They said, ‘Oh yeah, we know Uncle Bill,’ ” she added with a laugh.

Havercroft also has since learned of family members who remained fond of him although they’d lost touch. Dawna Havercroft, her 84-year-old grandma, was thrilled when Anna told her that she’d connected with Bill Young. She even showed her grandma a photo of them together.

“She’s in an adult family home, and she started to tear up when I told her that I had been visiting Uncle Bill,” Havercroft said. “She didn’t even know that he was still alive. That was really neat to be able to tell her that he was alive and doing well and that I had reconnected with him.”

She said her father Gayle Havercroft and Grandpa Bill Havercroft also both told her they want to go visit Young. However, they would need to meet outdoors because of current COVID-19 precautions, so any visits will likely have to wait until spring, she said.

Bill Young, who responded to questions via email, said he had lived in Spokane and then other places before moving back here in 2016. Young was in the Air National Guard for two years, the U.S. Army for five and the Air Force for 15 years, he said.

He then worked for Sears. In 1985, he started his own business before retiring some 50 years ago. Reflecting back, Young said it’s been about seven years since he last talked to Bill and Dawna Havercroft, but he was always fond of them, as well.

Anna Havercroft said she’s still not clear about why the divorce happened so long ago, but some in the family urged them to stay together.

“Bill had told me that when the announcement was made that they were getting a divorce that my grandma rushed over and tried to talk him out of it; that’s all he told me,” she said.

“Yeah, I think my grandparents were pretty fond of Bill and pretty close, and of course for the last 40 years, they haven’t been. They didn’t even know where he was and what he was doing. So my grandma was pretty excited.”

Her dad told her a story recently that he bought carpets from Uncle Bill for their home when she was young. Her family even bought his old Datsun pickup during her early childhood, but she doesn’t remember it.

“I didn’t put two and two together because I was little,” she said, but the stories confirm some family stayed in touch with Young early on. “Bill and I have since talked about my other aunts and uncles. It’s been fun to reminisce a little bit about family.”

Havercroft’s parents were married in 1975, at ages 18 and 19, and she thinks Young was likely at the event. “I might have to dig through their wedding album to see if I can find a picture of Bill.”

Now that she has a new relationship with Uncle Bill, Havercroft said she plans to make the most of it. She brings him treats such as banana bread.

“I’m kind of taking it on personally to check in on him to see if he needs anything. I’ve wanted to ask him a whole bunch of questions about family. We’ve reminisced a little bit, so that’s been really good.”

Plus, her other grandmother recently died, and Havercroft said she wished she’d had more visits and time with her.

“I worked for another retirement community until July when I moved over here, and my other grandma lived there,” she said. “When I left, I went and said goodbye to her and told her I love her, and of course with COVID, I didn’t hug or kiss her. She passed away about six weeks later. I regret not being able to hug or kiss her and spend more time with her.

“So I’m taking it like here’s my Uncle Bill, and I’m going to try and spend as much time with him as possible.”

A couple of times, Havercroft has met Young’s brother, who regularly has visited him at Revel Spokane. Otherwise, she said her uncle has been estranged from his other relatives. For her, she’s working on the two of them getting to know each other better.

“I’m not sure why we’ve been placed in each other’s path, but I’m going to try and get to know him, spend as much time with him as possible, and for him to know he is loved,” Havercroft said.

“I don’t know if I can bring the family back together,” she added. “There are Havercrofts who would really love to come see him. I know that, so maybe it’s a reconnecting of an estranged family after 40 years coming back together.”

While mentioning awareness that many seniors have faced a tough year without seeing family, she also thinks that the holidays and pandemic challenges make this one connection significant. With the newly opened door, she’s trying to be there for him.

“I think that’s going to be special – just a little bit of a reconnection with family during this holiday season.”

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