Diane Bell’s story sounds like something from a novel or a Hallmark holiday film. Diane was left on an Amish porch as a 3-month-old, over 40 years ago.
Her story was told in an article featured in Lancaster Online which we looked at here last year. From the original article:
Forty years ago, a widowed Amish woman and her daughter watched from their window late one night as someone in dark clothing walked up to their farmhouse near Gordonville, Lancaster County, and left a basket on the porch.
The frightened widow summoned her son from the attached house next door. They saw movement in the basket and assumed it was kittens.
Then they saw a pair of tiny, fluttering hands and knew someone had left them a baby.
The widow, 65-year-old Annie Lantz, sent her son, David, more than a mile on foot to a neighbor with a horse and buggy. From there he rode to a Mennonite home, which had a phone to call police.
Seven months later, Diane was adopted by a local non-Amish family. Diane recently began searching for her roots, which led to the original report in Lancaster Online.
“It’s like being an alien. It’s like I got dropped, and this is where I landed. And this is where I began,” Diane said at the time (see video below).
“Coming from such a small family, it would be a real neat thing to have brothers and sisters and have other people in my life. But if they don’t want to, I understand that too.”
TLC to the rescue?
After learning of Diane’s search for her blood relatives, the TLC series “Long Lost Family” contacted her about participating in the program.
Answers about Diane’s past will be revealed on tonight’s episode, airing at 8pm.
Interestingly, accepting the show’s offer of help to research her past meant she had to give up all of her own efforts to find her family.
Hopefully the resources of a network program have gone further than she could have on her own to find a happy resolution to this mystery.
Diane, who lives in Lititz in Lancaster County, is “sworn to secrecy” as to the outcome. But she’s reportedly excited, so that may be a good sign, explaining she’s “literally been waiting my whole life for this.”
In an interesting twist, apparently Diane has a spitting-image double out there. Perhaps this is a red herring; perhaps it will feature in the story.
The Amish family who found Diane feels a special connection to her:
Annie Lantz and her daughter, Rebecca, are dead, Bell says. David Lantz, now 75, lives in the same house on Musser School Road with his wife and children, and he clearly recalls the night of Bell’s discovery.
The family, he told Bell, has long regretted not keeping her themselves. Lantz said the Amish community gave his mother a hard time for giving the baby up, Bell says, “but she didn’t feel it was right. She cried a lot about it afterward.”
If Diane had been adopted by that family, there might have already been a second generation of her Amish descendants today (though they wouldn’t be “Bells”, of course). Diane has since happily connected with members of the Lantz family.
Amish interest in the story
Besides the Lantzes, I wonder how many other Amish will be curious of the outcome?
I would bet quite a few, given the local nature of the tale. And in fact, Diane mentions in the original article that there are “a lot of people in the Amish community who want to meet me.”
But these kinds of stories may resonate with Amish for another reason – the Amish themselves have dramatic stories of adoptions and conversions that have impacted their own history and lineage.
For instance, the Riehl family name, found particularly among Amish in Lancaster County, has traditionally been traced to a single eight-year-old boy who was tricked on board a ship traveling from Europe to America.
As the story goes, after finishing his indentured servitude, Lewis Riehl ended up living in Chester County, PA, with the family of Amish minister Christian Zook. He later joined the Amish, married and had at least seven children.
I’ve never seen “Long Lost Family”, but will be glad to learn the outcome of this fascinating story.
Update (Dec 12 2:54 pm): On last night’s “Long Lost Family,” Diane Bell learned that she has a sister, half-sister, and an aunt and uncle.
She also learned the identity of her parents, who are no longer living. You can find a recap of what she learned on the show at Lancaster Online. An excerpt:
“I’m Billie Jean Marie Kolbe.”
Bell is excited to share details of her background, which have been hidden for more than four decades.
“My parents were Judy and Bill Kolbe,” Bell said. “She died two years and two days ago — less than a year before I started searching. He died in 2000. They were no longer together.”
She has a younger sister, Dawn Wunderlich, who lives in Alabama. Her DNA was a 100 percent match for Bell, providing the proof TLC needed to determine her parentage.
“I have a sister — the one thing that I always wanted more than anything in the world,” Bell said. “She’s like my best friend now.”
She also has an older half sister — Angela Martin, who has two children in Chicago — and possibly more siblings on her father’s side.
Her father’s side of the family has not responded to the show’s inquiries, Bell said.
But she is getting to know her mother’s family, some of whom provided pieces to the puzzle of Bell’s past.
Diane’s birth mother and grandmother apparently carried her baby photo, on a keychain and pinned inside clothes, respectively. Diane was able to hear her birth mother’s voice thanks to voice messages saved by her sister.
It’s not totally clear why she was abandoned, but Diane says it may have been a condition for marriage imposed by her father. Whatever the reason, Diane holds no grudge against her mother: “I totally forgive her”…“She had to have done it out of love. There had to have been a reason. She was looking out for my best interests.”
Diane sounds thrilled to have found a sister, and has integrated with her relatives, spending Thanksgiving with her aunt and uncle. “You’d think it would be awkward,” she is quoted as saying. “It wasn’t. I felt like I belonged there.”
Read the full recap here.