Love isn’t easy; it’s complicated for everyone. Every couple has their moments of doubt, and each relationship has its ups and downs. But Karen Lehmann and Dennis Venar’s relationship was harder than most. When they first found each other, it seemed as though everything was keeping them apart. But when Karen became pregnant and Dennis proposed, it looked as though their life together would work out.
Then, heartbreakingly, the couple was forced to give up their child. They parted from their daughter and from each other for what they thought would be forever. Their lives went on without one another, but life has a funny, unbelievable way of recreating what was lost. After decades, Dennis and Karen finally discovered why they were kept apart and what happened to their baby girl. Hello, wonderful people!
I’m Scott Leffler for Wonderbot, and here is the couple who were forced to give up their baby. 50 years later, they discovered what happened to her. Before we begin, make sure to smash that like button, subscribe to our channel, and click the notification bell for more amazing videos. [Music] Who can forget the feeling of falling in love for the first time? Usually, while overwhelmed by raging hormones of youth, young people find love in the most unexpected places.
And when they do, they fall head over heels. And teens in 1958 were no different. Like all first loves, Dennis Venar and Karen Lehman’s relationship was intense and exciting. High school sweethearts from Brownton, Minnesota, their tale is the classic love story of two opposites attracting. However, their story would be anything but typical.
Dennis Venar is the classic all-American boy next door. After being held back a year because of a childhood illness, then he vowed not to allow anything else to stand in his way. From then on, Venar’s life was filled with hard work and big dreams. His father was a Buick salesman in Saint Paul, and it was not uncommon for Dennis to help him in exchange for extra cash. By high school, he’d grown into a handsome man and dapper dresser who caught all the ladies’ eyes.
Being the local football star certainly didn’t hurt either. While Venar was outspoken, Karen Lehman was quite the opposite. A reserved girl from a small town where everyone knew everyone, she was more concerned with her education than being popular. They did share something in common, however: fantastic work ethics. While Venar worked for his father and ran football drills, Lehman was hard at work studying or practicing the clarinet.
By the end of her freshman year in high school, Lehman was already a star clarinet player in the band and on her way to earning college acceptance. The two lovebirds would first meet in 1958 when Lehman was 13 and Venar was 15. He was quickly drawn to her, but she didn’t immediately act on his feelings. She was young and shy, and he had no desire to scare her. By 1960, however, things changed as Vanara had achieved sports stardom and Lehman had grown into a beautiful musician.
By the end of the year, he asked her to go to prom with him through an inscription in her yearbook. She said yes in an instant, and all the girls were jealous. She would later say that their young love sounded like something from a high school rom-com. Vanara was smitten with his girlfriend. She was unique, and he would often be late for football practices because he was walking her home from school.
Lehman genuinely enjoyed the interest the popular athlete showed in her. He wasn’t the most sophisticated guy in town, but his devotion to her was profoundly moving. Lehman and Vanara were head over heels or cleats in love. Their new romance was promising and exciting. Vanara had hopes of building a home with his new girlfriend, but something happened that blew all their plans out of the water.
The couple wouldn’t get the future they dreamed of so quickly. When she was only 15, Lehman found out that she was pregnant. Vanara did what was expected of young expectant fathers in the 1960s: he proposed. However, Lehman’s parents were far from thrilled with the match. They refused to allow the marriage, given that Lehman was underage at the time.
Her parents had the final word about the mother and her child. Instead of marriage, the Lehmans had different plans for their daughter. Karen was shipped off to a maternity home. The couple’s romantic visions were halted. Today, the few maternity homes that exist are hospitals where expecting mothers can get free confidential care if they lack the financial resources for other hospitals.
Before the 70s, however, maternity homes were adoption-oriented hospitals for unwed mothers, as giving birth to an illegitimate child was a major social taboo. Due to the social norms of the era, confidentiality regarding both hospital practices and residents was a priority. As such, it’s hard to know precisely what maternity homes were like in the 50s and 60s, and many negative stereotypes born from this era still haunt modern maternity homes. Conflicted and shocked, young Lehman was overwhelmed with the situation. She decided to obey her parents’ wishes.
Karen gave birth in the maternity home, naming her newborn daughter Denise after the baby’s father, Dennis. After the birth, the couple’s child was quickly put up for adoption. Lehman was understandably shaken, as was Vanara. Despite her parents’ wishes, Lehman got back in touch with Vanara. Vanara even proposed again, much to Lehman’s delight.
Again, they came up against her parents’ opposition, who remained disapproving of the match. Lehman’s parents weren’t the only things standing in the way of true love. Duty came calling, and Vanara was recruited into the military. Meanwhile, Lehman started college at the University of Minnesota. The young couple feared what the distance and demanding lifestyle of a soldier would do to their relationship.
A true romantic, Vanara sent his beloved letters from his deployment. Unbeknownst to Lehman, however, her father hid Vanara’s messages. He kept writing, but she never answered, and he didn’t understand why. On her end, Lehman thought Vanara must have forgotten about her and about the baby they had together. Over time, the relationship fizzled out.
While both were heartbroken, they went on with their lives, as people most often do. Vanara cheerfully said in an interview, “I went through hell to be with her, but I couldn’t. We couldn’t be together.” The former lovebirds went on with their separate lives. Lehman graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science in interior design, married, and had children.
Vanara finished his military duty and also married and had children of his own. The two would not communicate for over 50 years. After 50 years, Vanara and Lehman’s relationship and child became little more than a memory of a turbulent time in their youths. But memories of the past have a funny way of reappearing. In October of 2014, Vanara was at a dinner party with some friends when they began playing parlor games.
After a few games, a friend posed a question to the group: “If your doctor gave you 60 days to live, who would you want to take out to dinner and just talk to?” Vanara said the answer came to him without hesitation: Karen Lehman. The thought stuck, and a few days later, Vanara got the opportunity to contact his high school sweetheart. A few days after the party, Vanara, who separated from his wife several years earlier, made a seemingly trivial choice. At his friend’s encouragement, he opened a LinkedIn profile.
That mundane action ended up having an unexpected influence on his and Lehman’s life. As he browsed the website, learning more about its features, he began looking up past co-workers through the site’s search function. This little exercise brought back the memory of the party, encouraging him to try something novel. What if he were to try and find his former flame, Karen? Vanara typed in “Karen Lehman,” and there she was, third from the top.
Now living in Monroe, Washington, she was working in home design, just as she had dreamed as a young girl. Vanara was ecstatic, clapping his hands and exclaiming, “That’s my lady!” Later, he explained that Karen had never truly left his mind or heart. Vanara decided his discovery was a sign. After debating whether he should or not, Vanara called his old love.
But first, he had to go through the receptionist. He said, “Tell her an old friend of 50 years ago called. My name is Denny.” The receptionist at first thought the call was a joke but ultimately texted Karen just in case. Everyone is incredibly thankful for that text, as Karen called her old boyfriend back in minutes.
Understandably, Lehman was stunned to hear from Vanara after such a lengthy separation. But just like Vanara, she desired to connect with the man who had meant the world to her, someone she thought she’d lost forever. At first, they corresponded via email. Then they graduated to talking on the phone. Vanara found out that, just like himself, Lehman was single.
After a few months, the two decided to meet in person. Maybe, just maybe, there was still a spark to be rekindled between the former lovers. Vanara bought a plane ticket to Washington, nervous and riddled with anticipation. He was finally on his way to see his true love once again. Lehman awaited his arrival with equal anticipation.
It had been 50 years. Who knows what it’d be like seeing him again? What if the man who won her heart as a teenager was no more than a stranger to her now? Vanara got off the plane in Washington on January 19, 2015. Could his reunion with the girl he fell in love with when he was only 15 possibly measure up to his dreams?
Karen and Dennis met again, and the old chemistry and love were as intense as ever. Even after so many years apart, they knew immediately that they were always meant to be together and that they should never part again. Only two days after reconnecting, Dennis and Karen fulfilled their decades-old promise to wed. “It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” Vanara said to Kare 11 of their belated wedding day. Lehman, now Layman, Vanara packed her things and went back to Minnesota with her new husband.
However, the newlyweds’ honeymoon bliss was incomplete. While they got the wedding they yearned for as teenagers, there was something else – someone who should have been part of their new family. It was the child that they had put up for adoption all those years ago. They had longed to meet and see their daughter again, but they were unsure whether or not they should look for her. Dennis was convinced their child would be happy to finally meet her biological parents, while Karen was unsure.
She feared reuniting would turn their long-lost child’s life upside down. Dennis told his wife, “I found you now, and my life will be complete if we find our daughter.” Karen was deeply moved and finally convinced. The couple found the adoption agency that Karen’s parents turned to back in the ’60s. They sent the agency a letter asking them to locate their adopted child and reach out to her.
The agency took a while to retrieve all the necessary documents, but eventually, they were able to trace the Vanaras’ daughter. The Vanars’ daughter, Denise, was going by the name Jean Moxland. She was a 56-year-old mother of three, happily married, and living not far from her newly reunited parents in Kenyon, Minnesota. A brief letter found its way to the Voxland home, saying a family member was looking to get in touch with Jean. Fearing it was some sort of scam, she almost threw the letter away, but her husband, Andrew, had his doubts.
He decided to do some detective work and found out the message really did come from the adoption agency. Jean chose to answer and was shocked to discover the ones looking were her birth parents. After receiving her parents’ letter, Jean Voxland spoke with the adoption agency and set up a meeting. Jean had actually considered looking for her parents in the past but never imagined they’d looked for her. The Vanaras were thrilled to hear that they were going to reunite with their child.
Dennis hadn’t seen her since the day she was born, while Karen had not seen her daughter since she was a few months old. Would their daughter, now a mother herself, truly understand why they’d given her up? Only a face-to-face meeting in the Lutheran Social Services office would tell. It was late May of 2016 by the time they were all ready to meet in the offices of Lutheran Social Services in Saint Paul, Minnesota, along with an assigned caseworker. Understandably, everyone was very nervous on the morning of the reunion.
After all, they had not seen each other since Jean was a child. In the end, when they finally met, Karen quickly learned she had been worrying about nothing. While Jean, Karen, and Dennis were all incredibly shaken, it was out of pure emotional joy. After all these years, their family was finally reunited. But that first meeting was just the beginning.
While first getting to know her parents, a million thoughts crossed Jean’s mind. Memories of her time as an adopted child in Minnesota and her recently passed adoptive mother collided with the incredible love story of her birth parents. In time, Karen and Dennis’s relationship with their long-lost child grew. Today, Jean gets together with her birth parents once a week. “I feel like there’s been divine intervention here for us to get together the way we did,” Jean said in a recent interview.
The Laymans and the Vanars quickly came together to form one large family. Between Karen’s son, Dennis’s three children from previous relationships, Jean, her husband, and their three children, it’s become quite the clan. But their reunion was not complete yet. As they decided to become more than a family, just a year after reuniting, the group formed a company, Vanar Companies, and now all work together as furniture and lighting manufacturers. Meanwhile, the unique story of the Layman-Vanar-Voxland family was starting to take on a life of its own.
After Jean met her birth parents for the first time, she was overwhelmed with emotion. To help process her feelings, she followed her husband’s advice and began to write down her thoughts and emotions on the matter. As the relationship deepened and she learned about her parents’ history, she started writing down their story as well. Today, Jean gets together with her parents once a week for dinner when they’re not off being celebrities, that is. She says they still talk about their incredible life story, amazed at how everything came together.