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Twist of fate lands boy in DL home

Rob Brekke, right, tracked his brother, Tom, down in Indiana and met him for the first time a few years ago. SUBMITTED PHOTO1 / 2
Nancy and Lee Brekke, knew they wanted to adopt a child after they were married. SUBMITTED PHOTO2 / 2

It took a lot of twists and turns of fate for Rob Brekke to end up in Detroit Lakes: He was adopted from an orphanage in Romania when he was 2 years old.

Now 25, Brekke has the darker features of the Romanian people, and he has the same engaging personality he had at age 2 — more likely to be smiling than not.

On the trip to America, “he was giving everyone high-fives and hugs on the plane — Rob was very outgoing,” said his mom, Nancy Brekke.

His birth parents in Romania were too poor to care for their 14th and 15th children (Rob was No. 14) and then his birth mother, Maria, got sick with tuberculosis and had to go away to a sanitarium, unable to help his father, Petru, care for any of the Serban children.

Rob and his brother, Tom, who was 2 years younger, went into an orphanage, and both were later adopted by American parents.

Tom ended up with a family in Indiana, and the Brekkes tracked them down and went to visit them a few years ago. Nancy was amazed at the similarities between the two young men, and has a new belief in the power of genetics to shape personality.

Nancy said her desire to adopt a child dates back to her childhood.

“I grew up wanting to adopt, to find a child that didn’t have a home,” Nancy said.

Even after she and Lee married and received a clean bill of health to have biological children, Nancy wanted to adopt a child first.

“It was our wish to do it that way — the doctor said you should be able to have a biological child, so we adopted first, because we knew it might be tougher,” she said.

Why Romania?

“I’m German and my husband is Bohemian — that’s kind of the area we’re from,” she said. Romania also offered a shorter waiting period than China, where they were also considering adoption.

“We were already in the process before the big media blitz on adopting from Romania,” she said. It was a long process, at least nine months, made longer by a lengthy background check process in the United States, and by the first Gulf War, which slowed overseas correspondence time, Nancy said.

The Brekkes (Nancy is an elementary school teacher and Lee is the Wadena County assessor) worked through Lutheran Social Services of Moorhead, which sent a social worker to Romania.

One day the woman called them, Nancy said,  and asked: “’Would you like to adopt a 2½-year-old healthy boy?’ That was all we had, no photo or anything. We said yes.”

Later that afternoon they went to the movie Home Alone and thought, ‘Wow, what are we getting into?’ she said with a laugh.

Rob was one of five Romanian children who came off the airplane together, and were met by the five adoptive families. Nancy saw him and thought “I hope he’s ours.”

At about age 13, Rob said he started wondering about his birth family. The Brekkes knew very little about them, but they got in contact with a Romanian woman, Dr. Mariana Nas, and her husband, Vali, who live in Bucharest and agreed to try to track the family down.

Nancy had an address for the village they lived near, in northeastern Romania.

After lengthy delays and much trouble, the doctor and her husband finally found the village, but had no luck locating Rob’s birth family.

They finally decided they had to give up and were about to go home empty-handed.

“They were ready to leave this little village, when they saw a man walking down the road,” Nancy said.

They asked if he knew the family. He said he did, and what’s more, would take them there in person: He turned out to be one of Rob’s older brothers, Dumitru.

The doctor and her husband took numerous photos of family members, birth certificates and other documents, and showed them photos of Rob.

“His birth mother told us that she looked at the pictures all night long and couldn’t close her eyes because of the surprise and emotion,” the doctor wrote in a letter to the Brekkes.

“In his letter, Rob was asking if he has any brothers or sisters,” the doctor added. “Well, he has not one, not two, but 11 brothers and sisters who are all alive…”

With the Brekkes’ blessing, the doctor and her husband also bought several grocery carts of food and supplies as a present for the family.

Through the doctor, Rob’s birth mother asked for the Brekke’s help in tracking down her youngest child, providing an address in Mishawaka, Indiana.

Nancy called the family, made contact, and eventually the Brekkes (along with their other son, Ethan, 20) traveled to Indiana so Rob and his birth-brother Tom could have a reunion.

“When Rob was growing up, he always wanted someone that looked like him,” Nancy said. “The families just got along real well. The boys had been raised in similar homes. They were very similar in many things about their lives,”’ she said.

Tom later came to Detroit Lakes and stayed with Rob for a time, before moving home again to Indiana, Rob said.

Rob now works at BTD and Tom works with his dad in school maintenance.

It’s funny how things turn out. Rob Brekke of Minnesota and his birth brother, Tom Trippel, of Indiana, nearly grew up as Florin and Constantin Serban, living in near-poverty and difficult conditions in Romania.

Rob someday hopes to travel to Romania to meet his birth family. He said his birth father is a broom-maker and his birth mother is a rug-maker, and they live in the countryside.

“It would be really cool to go over there and meet them all,” Rob said.

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