John Conley’s daughters from Germany pay visit to dad after 26 years of separation

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For 26 years, John Conley searched for his two daughters from a previous marriage that had moved to Germany with their mother.

For 26 years, Evie and Janice Conley knew that they had a father in the United States, but had no way of tracking him down.

Earlier this year, a German television show reunited the father and daughters; and their rekindled relationship has led across the Atlantic Ocean and back — and now home to Switzerland County.

Now grown women, Evie Conley-Kecke and her husband Dick and mother-in-law Burgis and Janice Conley arrived here in Switzerland County to visit their father and his family on Wednesday, September 21st. The family will be staying until this Monday, October 10th.

“We’ve been on the go ever since,” John Conley said. “We’ve been going everywhere and seeing everything we can. It’s been wonderful.”

Since the family was reunited as part of a special German television show, father and daughters have been busily catching up on the past quarter of a century. Evie Conley said that for the first three months following the show, they were in contact everyday. Emails and telephone calls are still a part of normal life for the family.

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The family reunion began with Burgis Kecke, who decided to help daughter-in-law Evie Conley find her father. Burgis Kecke wrote to a television station asking for their help in locating John Conley — and the station accepted the challenge and went to work tracking down the girls father.

In a December 2nd, 2004 issue of the Vevay Newspapers, John Conley recounted how he got the news that he would again meet his daughters.

He got the news the day before Thanksgiving, when he was off work from his job as a maintenance mechanic at Michael’s Cooperage in Florence, Kentucky.

“I was working on the kitchen floor and had everything all torn up when the phone rang, “John Conley recalled. “There was a lady named Uta Fraun on the phone. Then it all hit me.”

Uta Fraun is the host of a television show in Cologne, Germany. The conversation got right to the point.

“Are you John Conley?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have two daughters?”

“Yes. Evie and Janice.”

“You’re the man that I’ve been hunting for two years.”

The television personality then began to relate to John Conley that his two daughters, now in their late 20s, had been searching for their lost father for many years without much luck. They then turned to Uta Fraun and her television show for assistance, and the show’s staff began to hunt for a man 26 years removed and a continent away from his children.

“You talk about almost having heart failure,” John Conley laughed. “She told me that they had been searching hard for me, and I’m sure when you search from another continent, it’s really hard. The lady told me that she only had two more states to search in — Wisconsin and Alaska.”

The caller told him that she had talked with more than 1,500 ‘John Conleys’ in this country with the same spelling as his.

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The reunion itself was a big surprise to everyone in Germany, even Burgis Kecke, who started the whole thing.

“They lied to everyone,” John Conley said with a laugh.

The television station told Burgis Kecke that they had found John Conley’s “neighbor”, and that they were bringing the neighbor to Germany to make sure that the girls were really the daughters of the John Conley that he knew. Burgis was told that the neighbor no longer lived next to John Conley, but that he knew where the girls’ father had moved to.

With that, John Conley, his wife Sara and son Tyler all went to Germany to visit Burgis Kecke. They met her at her home, but the secret was still being kept as to the neighbor’s true identity.

Meanwhile, Evie and Janice were told that they had won a trip in a contest sponsored by the television station.

“We were told that we had won a trip, and had our choice of going to Africa or to America,” Evie Conley-Kecke said. “We told them that we wanted to go to America because we wanted to try and find our father there.”

The girls were brought to Burgis Kecke’s home for what they believed would be a filming of them winning the contest. As a part of the filming, the girls again recounted their desire to travel to America and look for their father.

After more questions, the television crew asked the girls one last question:

“Your father is in the kitchen,” they said. “Do you want to see him?”

Of course the girls said yes, and the family was reunited in a moment filled with tears of joy and emotion.

At that moment they began making plans for the girls to visit the Conleys here in Switzerland County.

Both girls are now grown women in their late 20s. Janice works at a toy shop in Wiesbaden, Germany. Evie works in a factory that processes food. Her husband, Dick, repairs trucks. Burgis Kecke ran her own shop before suffering a heart attack; and her husband, who is an electrician, had to remain in Germany, but is planning on accompanying the family on their next trip.

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Arriving in Switzerland County, the Conley family has been busy.

The first day the girls did something truly American — they went shopping at the Florence Mall. From there, John Conley took the whole family to his hometown of Paintsville, Kentucky, where they stayed for the weekend, catching up with aunts and uncles and cousins that they never knew existed.

“They were thrilled,” John Conley said of his family’s reaction. “I think Kodak made a fortune, because there were lots of pictures taken.”

Evie and Janice got some photos of them as children from their family; and John Conley’s brother showed everyone a photo of him holding the two girls that was taken 25 years ago.

“He was hoping that he would see them again someday,” John Conley said. “He had kept that photo with him all those years. It was really something.”

The family had a video made for the girls of old photos of the family, going all the way back to John’s great-grandfather. The girls also got to see the family farm in Paintsville, and left with an appreciation of their family heritage.

The family has also been busy here in Switzerland County, attending various functions hosted by friends of John and Sara Conley. Everyone has enjoyed playing music at the home of Dan and Paula Reitsma; and members of Vevay Assembly Church, where the Conleys are members, have been hosting the family for meals.

A big party and cookout was held last Saturday evening at the home of Bill and Jackie Hill; and everyone enjoyed a hayride, bonfire, food, and music.

This past Sunday, the Conley family spent the day at King’s Island Amusement Park — and son-in-law Dick had a particularly good time.

“Dick likes to do ‘crazy stuff’,” John Conley said. “He hang glides and does stuff like that. Since he’s been here he’s gotten to ride a four-wheeler for the first time, and he thought that was great; but King’s Island really got him going.”

John Conley said that some family members met them at King’s Island, and that Dick was more than willing to ride all of the thrill rides; going from one ride to another.

“After he rode one of them he said it took a while for him to start breathing again,” John Conley laughed.

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So as the girls’ visit comes to an end, plans are already being made for future trips to Germany and return trips here.

One thing is for sure — this family will not lose track of each other again.

“We’ve just had the best time there ever was,” John Conley said.

— Pat Lanman