A father for Christmas
Son traces DNA to IM man who didn’t know he existed
IRON MOUNTAIN — The claim stunned Gary Proudfit: I think you might be my father.
“I’ve been faithful to the same woman for over fifty years,” Proudfit answered, bewildered.
“Well, Gary, I’m 59,” Paul Youngblood of Rockford, Ill., told the longtime Iron Mountain resident in their first phone conversation. He followed with, “Have you ever been to Sheboygan?”
And suddenly it all made sense, for both of them.
Adopted as an infant, Youngblood had managed to track down his biological mother in 1978 in that Wisconsin city on Lake Michigan, but the paternity trail had gone cold after a DNA test ruled out the man she thought to be his father.
Now, new DNA information had brought Youngblood to the man he had been looking for his entire life.
Youngblood grew up Paul Jungbluth after being adopted just after his birth by Bob and Mary Jungbluth of Greenfield, Wis., about 17 miles from Milwaukee. He changed his last name to Youngblood in 1987 while living in Los Angeles, pursing Hollywood dreams of becoming an actor.
While he said he had a great home, Youngblood knew from early on he was adopted and had a strong desire to learn his identity.
“I always knew I would search for my biological parents, but it wasn’t until I was 18 and legally able to petition the courts to have my adoption records released that I really started looking,” Youngblood said.
On his 18th birthday on March 20, 1978, he did seek his records but initially was turned down. He was given access only to non-identifying information, such as ethnic, educational and medical background.
“I was furious,” Youngblood said. “How can they deny me access to my stuff?”
However, the court’s rejection wasn’t the end. The non-identifying information included five important clues: his mother’s birthdate, the fact she was the fifth of six children, that she had two brothers in the service, that her father was a skilled worker and that she was of German and Dutch descent.
His adoptive mother also gave him another important piece of information — his biological mother had named him Ricky.
This triggered Youngblood’s aggressive search for his birth mother. “My adoptive mother helped in this search and it was quite an adventure,” he said.
During the quest, Youngblood met with a woman from the Children’s Service Society who told him his mother had been born in a community along Lake Michigan between Green Bay and Milwaukee. This narrowed his search down significantly, as there were only three counties he needed to explore.
On April 23, 1978, just a month after his petition was denied, Youngblood found Eileen Felten, who fit all five descriptions. He first made contact with Felten’s brother, who gave Youngblood his sister’s phone number.
He waited three hours before calling. When he finally dialed her number, Felten answered the phone and said, “Ricky?” Youngblood replied, “You’re my mother.”
Felten was remarried and going by Eileen Schulz at the time. In an interview Felten-Schulz gave to WLUK-TV in Green Bay on May 16, 1978, she said she was only 17 and living in Sheboygan when she gave Youngblood up for adoption. “I had no choice, I was too young and my parents thought I was a disgrace to the family,” she said in the interview. “I had to go along with my parent’s decision.” Felten-Schulz said she was “tickled pink” he had found her.
After getting to know his mother, Youngblood asked about his paternity. “She told me she believed it was a man named Roger, also of Sheboygan. When I found him in 1978, he didn’t welcome further contact,” Youngblood said.
The time with his newly found birth mother proved short. On April 30, 1980, Eileen Felten-Schulz died in her sleep.
Youngblood went on to work as a meteorologist at WGBA-TV in Green Bay, then at stations in Illinois. He continued through the years to seek more information about the man his mother had named as his father.
In 1996, Youngblood found someone he thought was a “birth half-sister” on his birth father’s side. By then, Roger had become more receptive.
“We met, along with Roger and the rest of his family. I asked Roger if he’d be interested in doing a DNA test. He said ‘sure’ and that he’d pay for it, even,” Youngblood said.
The results came back on July 3, 1996 — and showed, with 99% certainty, Roger could not have sired Youngblood.
With his birth mother gone, there was no re-visiting their conversation of paternity. Youngblood concluded he would probably never find his biological father.
“By this time, I had become a Christian and knew that my Father in heaven was truly enough — and my mortal birth father might never be known this side of heaven,” he said.
Then the genealogical company Ancestry.com began to rise in popularity, developing a massive database of DNA tests. But Youngblood actually was slow to turn to it as a resource.
“I was given the test kit as a gift. It sat on my desk for a couple of years before I submitted my sample,” he said. “I really only anticipated seeing the ethnographic map of my heritage. And maybe some far-distant relatives, too far for reasonable birth father identification.”
However, when Kelly Proudfit popped up as a close relative, Youngblood knew he had found something significant. Youngblood’s wife, Lisa, began searching Facebook for members of the Proudfit family. In her search, she noticed a GoFundMe page created for Kelly Proudfit, who was fighting a rare form of bone cancer called chondrosarcoma.
“I decided that I would not want to be a distraction for her treatment and recovery. I prayed for miraculous healing,” he said.
About a week later, a second match came up, to a Charles Proudfit. “When I isolated the matches on my birth father’s side, I noticed some close family connections. Kelly was noted as my first cousin and Charles Proudfit was noted as my second cousin. My wife and I believe that for me to be both Kelly’s first cousin and Charles’ second cousin, my birth father would be Kelly’s paternal uncle,” Youngblood said.
As Kelly’s father, Randy Proudfit, had only one brother, this led Youngblood to Gary Proudfit.
In early October, Gary Proudfit received a Facebook message from his cousin and Charles Proudfit’s aunt, Cheryl (Proudfit) Miller, who Youngblood had recently contacted. She told him a man searching for his father thought he might be in the Proudfit family.
“I thought that was very interesting,” Gary Proudfit said. “I wondered where he might belong, so I gave him my number and told him to call me.”
It never occurred to Gary that the father Youngblood was looking for was him. He was in disbelief — until Youngblood mentioned Sheboygan.
“It was like a shot in the heart,” he said.
In the summer of 1959, just after graduating from high school and before enlisting in the Navy, Proudfit and his friend, Ted Chapman, took a road trip in a green 1950 Ford to attend the Johnsonville Bratwurst Festival in Sheboygan. He met a girl on that trip.
Gary Proudfit agreed to do the Ancestry.com DNA test. Just three days later, on Oct. 9, Youngblood and his wife drove from their home in Rockford, Ill., to Iron Mountain to meet Proudfit and administer a DNA test.
It was difficult to deny the resemblance when the two men met.
“I lost my breath,” Gary Proudfit said. The men not only looked alike, they even carried themselves in the same manner.
Proudfit’s wife, Sue, was convinced this was her husband’s son. “I think we need to call the kids,” she said. Enter Jane Tomasoski, Nancy McCole and John Proudfit. All three instantly bonded with their new sibling.
“I’ve always wanted a brother,” John Proudfit said.
Youngblood and his wife spent the weekend in Iron Mountain getting to know his newfound family. Though not one person thought the DNA test was necessary, Youngblood had been through this once before, so the kit was sent in.
In the meantime, the Youngbloods returned for Thanksgiving with their children, Matt and Alexis, to spend the holiday at his sister Nancy McCole’s home. The Youngbloods were able to meet the rest of the Proudfit clan, finding everyone very welcoming.
“It is just so awesome. I love how Paul was so determined. I am glad he was able to find his birth mother and dad. I am especially happy he found dad and that we have four more amazing family members,” McCole said.
“I just felt naturally part of the big group,” Youngblood said. “It didn’t feel unusual or awkward. I’ve always known I was going to fit in somewhere.”
Though no one really doubted the match, the results Dec. 4 confirmed Youngblood had finally tracked down his biological father.
“It couldn’t have been a better find,” he said. “I have been blessed with, from both birth parents, four new sisters and two new brothers.”
His oldest sister, Jane Proudfit, said, “He fits right into our family like he was supposed to be here all along.”
Sue Proudfit agreed. “He just fits in perfectly; he has never felt like a stranger to us,” she said.
The story has moved through the community rather quickly and Gary’s wife said many people have asked how she feels about “all this.”
“This man has been searching for his father his entire life,” Sue Proudfit answered. “He has every right to know where he came from. I was only 13 years old when Paul was conceived. There was no infidelity, I hadn’t even met Gary at the time.”
She added, “I think it has been a very good response from everybody and I’m happy, I get to be a stepmom.”
“My wife has been so accommodating,” Gary Proudfit said. “It’s exciting.”
Youngblood’s adoptive parents died more than 20 years ago, but Mary Jungbluth said in an interview with WLUK-TV in Green Bay in 1978 that she was happy to help her son find his biological family.
“Any adoptive parent realizes that the adoptee has four parents; they have the natural and the adoptive. Love isn’t limited. Just because he loves her doesn’t mean he doesn’t love us. As an adoptive parent, you never forget the natural parent, because they give him the heredity and we give him the environment,” she said.
“I hope this inspires others to go ahead and try Ancestry, that I have given some people hope for those that have a little bit of gap in their life — if they are an adoptee or even a birth parent that knows they have a child out there somewhere that they have never met,” Youngblood said, adding, “I would have never dreamed it would have been so welcoming on my father’s side, for me and my family.”