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‘I End Up With 5 Extra Grandchildren and 2 Sons!’ : Father Finds ‘Boys’ After 33-Year Search

Times Staff Writer

Howard Berthold says today might just be the best Father’s Day of his life.

For the first time in 33 years, Berthold knows where his “boys"--now aged 35 and 37--are, and later this week, he’ll fly to New Orleans to meet Larry Berthold and Bruce Naser, the two sons he had given up hope of ever finding three decades after they were separated by divorce and a cross-country move.

“It will be quite a reunion,” Berthold predicted. “I still don’t know what I’m going to say to them. . . . But I guess things will work out.”

Berthold and his first wife had already separated when he moved from Ohio to Southern California in 1952, seeking winter construction work. He sent letters to his young sons, Berthold said, but before long “the letters started coming back. . . . The last (mail) I got was the divorce papers.”

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A few years later, on a trip back to his ex-wife’s hometown in New Jersey, Berthold “couldn’t even find any old friends or old recollections,” he said, and pretty much gave up trying to find his sons.

Berthold had also remarried by then, and started a new family in Garden Grove. He and his second wife, Martha, now live near Glen Ivy Hot Springs in western Riverside County. They have a daughter, three sons and four grandchildren, after 32 years of marriage.

“My wife had remarried, too,” Berthold recalled in an interview, “and the boys had a father. I didn’t want to disrupt their lives.”

What Berthold didn’t know years later, though, was that the boys had started looking for him.

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His older son, Bruce Naser (his stepfather’s surname), came very close to finding Berthold. “I was in the Navy out in California, and I had an idea that my father was there,” Naser said.

He checked every telephone directory he could lay his hands on, including those for the Los Angeles area, but missed the Orange County directory that included his father’s number in Garden Grove, where Berthold lived in the same house for 25 years.

While stationed on the U.S. aircraft carrier Coral Sea in the late ‘60s, Naser said, he sent press releases and his photograph to newspapers all over the state. But Howard Berthold never saw an article.

“I had contacted a number of Bertholds all over the country, but no one ever knew anything,” Naser said. “We had just resigned ourselves that we would never meet.”

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Because the boys were born in Ohio, Larry Berthold concentrated his search there. “I talked to every information operator in the state,” he said. “I must have called a hundred. (Then) I talked to all the Bertholds.

“They said they ‘didn’t know him, but good luck,’ ” Larry recalled. ". . . Well, my dad found me after 33 years.”

Howard finally found his sons with the help of a San Clemente firm that specializes in finding lost relatives.

‘Enthused About Finding Them’

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“My daughter, Debra, said, ‘They’re my brothers, too,’ . . . (and) my wife got quite enthused about finding them,” Berthold said.

But the mother and daughter’s search through government records and telephone directories led from one dead-end to another.

“You don’t realize how much you have to go through--the letters you write, the phone calls--and you’re not sure you even know their names . . . or what part of the country,” Berthold said. “They might have lived right here in Corona.”

So the family turned to Worldwide Tracers, paying the firm $500 to track down Larry and Bruce.

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A little more than a month ago, a contact working for the federal government “led me to one of the sons,” said Pat Rutherford, a partner in the company. The investigator declined to reveal the source of his information, saying it might endanger the source’s job security.

‘Making People Happy’

“This is the fun part of the business,” Rutherford said. “We are Christians and we get a bang out of bringing people together, making people happy.”

If that’s the case, then Rutherford should hear an explosion when this family gets together in New Orleans later this week.

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“I feel great,” Larry Berthold said, ". . . (and) I’m pretty excited about finding three brothers and a sister.”

“I didn’t believe it for three days,” Naser said. ". . . I’m very, very excited. I’m really interested in meeting the man.”

“I end up with five extra grandchildren and two sons!” Howard Berthold said, beaming.

The three have already spoken on the telephone several times, starting to catch up with each other on more than three decades of their lives.

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“I call him ‘Dad,’ ” Bruce Naser said. "(It feels) good, really good.”

And this Father’s Day, Howard Berthold couldn’t agree more.


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