- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - For nearly 40 years, Brian Klueber wandered through life believing he had a son he’d never met.

Klueber, a 56-year-old South Dakotan with a gray goatee and bad shoulders from a lifetime of hard work, grew up on a farm near Canistota, between Mitchell and Sioux Falls, trained to become a plumber at the local vocational-technical school, became a certified electrician and spent 16 years as a foreman erecting high-rise buildings.

Along the way, he got married and had two daughters.

But Klueber never forgot that late 1970s summer with Helma, a pretty German girl whose limited English and gentle smile he still savors nearly four decades after they parted.

It was 1977 or 1978, after he had graduated from Mitchell Vocational-Technical Institute. Klueber hopped into his Corvette and drove west to the Black Hills, eager to start his new job with a plumbing company.

“I was tooling around the block looking for a place to stay because I had just got this job,” he recalled last month. “I saw this girl walking by herself, and she was pretty good looking. So I stopped, jumped out of my Corvette, and tried to convince her she and I could save money by staying together in a motel.

“She just smiled and didn’t know what to say,” Klueber added. “She was a little leery of getting in my car and going to a motel. It took an hour before she agreed to get a room together.”

For a month, the two were inseparable. On weekends, they explored Rapid City and the attractions of the Black Hills. On weeknights, with the aid of a translation book, Helma would practice her English with Klueber. The two would sip beers in their spartan motel room, enjoying each other’s company.

“She would bring home a six-pack of Miller every night and set it right in the window on the register to get it good and warm,” Klueber remembered, stifling a laugh. “I’d grab a couple bottles and put them in the fridge. Eventually, I was able to convince her I liked my beer cold.”

At the end of 30 days, Helma had to return to Germany from her extended holiday and leave Klueber behind. They promised to write, though in transferring motels, Klueber admitted, he couldn’t find her address.

Several months passed and, as memories of their fleeting romance began to fade, Klueber received a phone call from his mother, asking if he had received a certified letter she had forwarded. Unfortunately, his mother had sent the letter to his previous address. Klueber said he returned to that motel and asked the managers about any mail that may have been delivered for him.

“They said, ‘Do you remember that girl you used to live with?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’” Klueber recalled. “They said, ‘She’s been writing to you twice a week since she left because she’s pregnant and is going to be having a little boy.’”

Klueber said he was dumbfounded. He was even more astonished when he learned the motel managers had thrown all the letters away, and no one had thought to retain Helma’s address. In an age without Internet, Klueber was stymied from mounting any attempt to contact Helma.

Years passed, children were born, jobs changed, a wife divorced, and hair turned gray. Still, Klueber said, he never forgot about Helma and the son he had never held.

Then, last year, as he was cleaning out an old filing cabinet, Klueber said he stumbled on a small, crinkled piece of paper. There, written in pencil faded with time, was a name - “Helma Rohns - Ottersberg, Germany.”

“I got so excited, I called my sister Charlene,” Klueber said. “This has been in my mind for so many years. I thought, ‘I’ve got a lost boy out there.’ It bothered me for a lot of years. My whole family has known about this forever.”

On Valentine’s Day, Charlene told her younger brother that it would be sweet if he wrote a letter to Oprah Winfrey, telling her about his long lost love. Instead, she presented him with a large sheet of paper on which she had written, “I am Brian Klueber looking for my son who was conceived in Rapid City, SD. Mother was from Germany on vacation and went back pregnant in 1977-1978.” It also had a phone number and said to “keep sharing so it reaches Germany.”

Then, Charlene took a photo of Klueber holding the sheet of paper and posted it on Facebook. The response was immediate, and they were soon fielding calls and emails from people in Germany, as well as from 50 to 60 private investigators willing to assist and reporters wanting to tell his story.

“Charlene did all this research online, and with help of people in Germany, they found out where Helma had gone,” Klueber told the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1HrNlcK ). “In June, Charlene called me and said, ‘I have some good news and some bad news for you. I found Helma. The bad news is I talked with her for some time and she said, Brian, you don’t have a son by her. She has a son, but he came years later.’”

The news tore Klueber apart. On one hand, he was relieved that the guilt he had carried for nearly 40 years was without cause, because he had not abandoned a boy he thought he had fathered. However, he said part of him was crestfallen that he did not have a son.

“In a way I was relieved to know I really didn’t have a kid with Helma,” he said with a sigh. “But, in a way, I really wanted a son because I never had one.”

Since the discovery, Charlene has spent hours trading emails with Helma, who is a freelance journalist in Germany. They’ve also spoken on the phone, and Helma has told Charlene that she has fond memories of visiting the Black Hills and that month-long romance with Klueber, and one day she hopes to return.

But to date, Klueber has not spoken with Helma.

“I’ve been gathering up my thoughts,” he said. “I just haven’t had the guts or the courage to talk with her yet. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this last week. I always wanted somebody in my life, like I do now, because I’m single. And I still think about her.”

___

Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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