Supermodel's 'secret child' pens book
Though she never got the chance to meet her biological parents, adoptee Susan Smith Fedorko counts herself as lucky.
A Native American by birth -- her father, Tom Conklin, was an enrolled member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa, who spent at least some of his childhood in the White Earth area -- Fedorko was adopted by a Caucasian family as an infant, and raised in Minneapolis with her two adoptive siblings.
"This was before the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) came into being," she explained, referring to the 1978 federal law that restricts the out-of-home placement and adoption of Native American children into non-native families.
"It worked out for me," Fedorko said, noting that she was adopted into "a very loving family" and never had a clue that her heritage was any different from theirs until she was five or six years old.
Many Native American adoptees weren't as fortunate, she added.
"You hear a lot of stories -- there were great number of native adoptees (who) suffered neglect, abuse and other horrible circumstances while in their adopted environment," she said.
Besides being a strong supporter of the provisions of the ICWA, Fedorko is also an advocate for getting Minnesota's "closed" adoption laws changed, to allow adopted children greater access to information about their biological families.
Because she had so little information to go on in the search for her birth family, Fedorko was not reunited with them until 10 years ago -- after both of her birth parents had passed away.
Her biological sister, Sarah, had managed to track her through some detailed information that she had posted on an adoption website.
"I was never given a whole lot of information about my birth family, but what I did have was pretty spot on for what she was looking for," Fedorko said. "So one day she called me.
"On Nov. 25 of this year it will be 10 years since I got that phone call... I started looking when I was 18, and I'm 50 right now. Because Minnesota is a closed adoption state, I was never able to get any answers at all."
Though she never met her mother, Catherine Dahmen, or father Tom personally, Susan did learn quite a lot about her parents through their respective families. For instance, her birth mother found fame as a model during the 1960s, when she graced the covers of magazines including Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.
"When I went searching for my family, I was not expecting to find out how successful of a career my mother had after having me," Fedorko said. "She was an Eileen Ford model in the 1960s -- her competition was Twiggy."
Fedorko also heard from Catherine's family that she had actually lived with her birth mother for about a year before she gave her up for adoption, and that her mother had nicknamed her "Cricket."
"She named me Veronica on my original birth certificate, but for some reason they all called me Cricket -- and they still do today," said Fedorko.
It was that nickname that Fedorko used as the title of her autobiography, "Cricket: Secret Child of a Sixties Supermodel," which was released just last week by Outskirts Press.
"I haven't even received my own copies in the mail from the publishing house," Fedorko said.
"It took me six years to write," she added. "For me, it was kind of a healing process, to put my feelings into words.
"My intention was also to let the Dahmen family know who I was, where I was from, how I was raised, and also to tell an inspiring story that can touch a lot of adoptees."
The best advice she can give those adoptees searching for their birth parents, Fedorko said, is "Don't ever give up, because you never know when you're going to get that phone call."
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.