When Stephanie Phillips and her mother, Joan Wehrmeyer, first saw each other, the two hugged with tears in their eyes for several moments, not letting go.
As they stood inside the Two Georges at the Cove Waterfront Restaurant and Marina in Deerfield Beach on Tuesday, they held each other tight.
Between the tears and smiles, Wehrmeyer said, “It’s been a long time.”
It had been almost five decades since the two had seen each other.
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Last month, mother and daughter reconnected through Facebook for the first time since Wehrmeyer, barely out of high school, left Phillips in the care of her ex-husband, Richard Botwin.
It was in the 1960s when a 17-year-old Wehrmeyer, then Joan Courchene, ran off and married Botwin. She got pregnant shortly after. A disagreement with the Botwin family left Wehrmeyer feeling she had no choice but to leave her daughter with her father.
Meeting her mother for the first time was a dream come true, said Phillips, 48, who lives in Waynesburg, Pa.
“I’ve played this over in my head I don’t know how many times,” she said.
Wehrmeyer, now 67, later moved to South Florida, remarried, had one child and adopted another, and ran a catering business and restaurant. She now lives in Coral Springs.
Her daughter remained with her father in New Jersey.
“As I was growing up I was never allowed to ask any questions,” Phillips said. “It was a completely taboo subject.”
As an adult, she married Rodney Phillips. The couple had searched for Wehrmeyer several times without luck, but they did not give up.
Her husband “made me a promise that we would find her,” Phillips said as she sat across from her mother in a booth at the restaurant.
A couple of years ago, Phillips’ father passed away. Then, she began caring for an ailing aunt.
While filing paperwork for the aunt, Phillips needed a copy of her birth certificate. She finally found her mother’s maiden name, age and where she was from.
Her husband entered the information on a people-search website and found that Wehrmeyer had a Facebook account with her maiden name.
The description matched the one the couple had for her.
“Had she not used her maiden name, we never would have found her,” said Rodney Phillips, who sat by Phillips’ side at the table.
He sent a couple of messages to Wehrmeyer on Facebook and got a response on June 18. Wehrmeyer confirmed that she was Phillips’ mother.
They learned they are both left-handed and have both been involved in the hospitality industry as restaurant owners.
“I don’t come from a food background, but it has been a love of mine since I was a little girl,” Phillips said.
Prior to connecting with Wehrmeyer, the Phillipses had planned a vacation to South Florida for their 13th wedding anniversary. So they decided to use the opportunity to finally meet Wehrmeyer.
Wehrmeyer said her son — who also promised to help reunite mother and daughter — has begun making holiday plans for the family and said she knew instantly upon seeing Phillips that she would bond with her daughter.
The two plan to spend time in the future “to fill in the past 48 years,” according to Phillips.
“It’s almost like she was never gone,” Wehrmeyer said.