Each Aug. 14, just like every holiday, Sharon Ramage would think about her unknown daughter and, as her mind filled with questions, her heart would feel the ache:
What had happened to the little girl she’d given birth to that August day in 1962?
What did she look like now?
What had she become?
Did she ever wonder about me?
When she was Sharon Behringer, a 19-year-old Dayton nursing student, she had become pregnant. As was often the practice back then, she was “sent away” – in her case to Columbus – to have the baby in secret and then put it up for adoption.
Her boyfriend, Don Roth, was a University of Dayton student from Norwalk. He was kicked out of UD, returned home and, because it was a closed adoption handled by Catholic Social Services, he neither got to see the child nor find out any information about it.
He and Sharon broke up and for over half of a century – each married to someone else – they never spoke again.
The only time Sharon had ever been allowed to hold her daughter had been for a few brief moments when the baby was two months old and she had returned to Columbus with her mom to sign the final separation papers.
After that, all Sharon was left with were the questions, first and foremost, what ever happened to her baby?
As it turned out, the child remained bypassed in a foster home for nine months until a loving, nurturing couple from Dayton – Ann and Denny Hart, both of them educators – adopted her and named her Christina Marie.
Around the Miami Valley sports world and especially at Alter High School, she’s known as Chris Hart, one of the area’s most accomplished women’s basketball figures ever.
She was a star player at Alter in the late 1970s, got a basketball scholarship to Xavier and after graduation, began what’s become a storied coaching career.
She was a grad assistant on Theresa Check’s staff at Western Illinois University and then spent seven years as the head coach at the College of Wooster, where her teams went 104-73.
She returned to Alter and has been the girls basketball coach for 26 seasons, many of them teamed with fellow coach Kendal Peck, who is the animated presence on the bench to her more stoic and reserved self.
Hart has a 452-167 mark at Alter and her teams have won four state titles, finished as runners-up twice and made eight Final Fours. Along with teaching, she’s spent 17 years as the athletics director of the school’s successful sports programs.
With so much prominence, achievement and longevity, her resume seems as full as it could get.
The only thing missing – though she said it was never a pressing issue with her over the years – was where her athletic roots stretched back to. Where had she come from?
From the time she was small she said her parents had told her she was adopted and all of her friends knew it, too.
Although she said she’d thought about her birth parents on occasion, she had never pushed the issue. She had a beautiful, loving family – her younger brother Philip, who has different birth parents, was adopted, too — and she said, ‘I didn’t want to hurt my mom and dad. “
But she said, “Last May out of the clear blue, my birth mother reached out to me through Catholic Social Services.”
The contact initially was prompted by Sharon’s breast cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2018. Her doctor told her she needed to pass her medical information on to her children.
She and her husband Jim Ramage — who have been married 50 years and now live in Centerville — have three grown daughters.
Sharon, though, also knew there was a fourth daughter and as she passed her medical information on to Catholic Services, she also asked to be able to make contact with the daughter she’d given up nearly 57 years earlier.
The request was sent to Ann and Denny, who would decide the next move.
Chris said her parents pushed her to respond, but because of end-of-the-school-year demands and her initial uncertainty about how she would reply, she hesitated.
But then came a five-page, hand-written letter from Sharon.
“It was so genuine,” Chris said. “It was heartfelt. It was amazing.”
That made responding easier and it opened the door to what has become one the most remarkable of personal journeys and something for which she is especially thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day.
‘Excited but nervous’
After she heard from Chris, Sharon contacted Don Roth for the first time since 1962.
He still lives in Norwalk and he and his wife, Mary, have been married 55 years and have eight grown children.
When he found out about Chris he, too, reached out through some emails.
The three of them – Sharon, Don and Chris – agreed to meet July 18th at the Meadowlark restaurant on Far Hills Avenue.
Chris said she had no idea what Sharon looked like: ‘She had no presence on social media.”
She also worried her birth mother might be disappointed in her:
“I was excited, but nervous, too. I was like, ‘Gosh, when I meet them is it going to be OK? And I’m going to live up to her expectation?’”
Once together, her fears quickly evaporated and they spoke for five hours.
A couple of weeks later Chris said she brought her “mom” and “dad” – Ann and Denny – to meet with Sharon and Don: “It was incredible. We shared a lot of laughs and tears – the good kind – and lots and lots of love.”
Among other things, Chris and Sharon discovered there likely were times they unknowingly crossed paths.
“I grew up on Earnshaw Drive and for a while she and her husband, Jim, lived on Shroyer about four blocks away,” Chris said. “I used to ride my bike all around there.”
Chris said years later, after Sharon had raised her kids, she went back, finished nursing school and ended up working in the pulmonary ward at Kettering Medical Center. That’s where Denny Hart often was treated for his COPD.
“And one of Sharon’s daughters went to Alter when I was teaching here,” Chris said. “And two of her daughter’s friends played basketball for me.”
Now Chris said she goes to Incarnation Catholic Church, as does Sharon.
The relationship Chris was building with her birth parents quickly expanded to include their families. She went to a party in Norwalk and met all eight of Don’s children and she’s met Sharon’s children – and some grandkids –as well.
She smiled: “For a long time, I just had a younger brother. But now I’m the oldest of 13 kids.”
She said she’s in daily contact with some of them and next month, several members of Don’s family are coming down to watch an Alter girls game.
And between Christmas and New Year’s, Chris is hosting a party at her Miami Township home for all the family members. She figures about 50 people will be there.
“For an introvert like me it’s been exhausting and overwhelming at times,” she admitted. But as one of her friends reminded her, ‘Look at it as a gift that just keeps getting unwrapped.”
It’s been an adjustment for everybody, including her mom, Ann, who was a longtime teacher at St. Albert’s.
As she showed some of the photos from the day both sets of parents met, Chris started to smile. She pointed to a shot of her between her two mothers and said her brother Philip was working the camera.
At one point he tried to get separate shots of Chris with each set of parents, but the arrangement never quite materialized.
“You can’t see it in the picture, but my mom (Ann) has hold of me good,” she laughed. “She held me tight and wouldn’t let go, so we just kept taking pictures the way we had been.”
In October, Alter took part in the “Respect for Life” campaign.
After Mass one day – rather than principal Lourdes Lambert addressing the student body with some words of inspiration or direction as is usually the case – Chris was given the platform.
Beforehand, when he heard his athletics director was getting the microphone, longtime Knights football coach Ed Domsitz had ribbed her, saying: “I hope this doesn’t take too long!”
There were no worries once Chris started to share her previously unknown story. Some of those attendance said “you could have heard a pin drop” among the students.
“I hope my story resonates not just with those of you who are adopted, but everyone here,” she began.
Her message was clear: “I want to remind you that your decisions have consequences and most of the time you have no idea how far reaching those consequences can be.”
She talked about the “courageous,” and “heart-wrenching decision” her young mother once had to make, the “burden” she carried afterward and yet how it “gave me a life.”
“I know it won’t go like this for everyone, but it worked out for me and my mom and dad.”
She recently learned that her adoptive parents had been waiting a long time for a child. She said her dad wanted a boy, but he and her mom were told about this “very special little girl,” who had been passed over several times.
“My birth parents gave them an opportunity to get a child. That was a blessing for them and then they were amazing in the way they provided me with a life after that. They gave me and my brother a very loving home. I’m grateful to everybody involved.”
Sharon has to be, as well. Her questions have been answered.
This year on Aug. 14, Chris got birthday cards from her newly-found siblings.
As for that concern on past holidays, Sharon should have none now. Chris said this Thanksgiving will be like none other:
“I’ve always had a lot to be thankful for, but even more so this year. I’ve always felt I was blessed. I mean, I look at my life and I think, ‘Wow! Why am I so lucky?’
“And now it’s like, ‘Why do I deserve all this?’ I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true.
“Right now my heart is just so full.”
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