Finding family, an ‘awesome feeling’
BY GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball
A window into Steve LaRussa’s past opened for him in recent years as if a genie said abracadabra. The prize wasn’t a chest full of gold. It was more meaningful. It was meeting long-lost siblings.
As a boy growing up in Florida he didn’t know he was adopted. The kind man and woman who adopted him were simply mom and dad. That’s all that mattered from infancy in Tampa and until his family moved to nearby Zephryhills when he was 3 and through adolescence and into adulthood.
But as he grew, he and his adopted sister couldn’t help but notice that they didn’t look like each other or their parents. LaRussa, 59, said he didn’t know for sure he was adopted until he was in his mid-40s.
“We always thought about it,” LaRussa said.
Then he found the siblings he never knew he had when young.
“It was the most amazing feeling ever,” said LaRussa, who resides in Cocoa Beach and works at Cape Canaveral.
It was a journey that wasn’t possible when he was a boy because genetic testing and websites were not available. Two of the tools LaRussa used were websites; ancestry.com was founded in 1996 and 23andMe.com in 2006.
He wasn’t sure what if anything he would find going into the project.
“I really had an open mind,” LaRussa said. “Expect the worst, hope for the best.”
Finally, last year, he located the siblings he never knew and his hopes became reality.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” LaRussa said. “Awesome feeling.”
He wasn’t the only who felt the emotional wallop.
His wife Bonnie has been by his side through this journey. “She cries every time we talk about it,” LaRussa said.
He has a half-brother named John Wurtele, 71, a Tallahassee resident. LaRussa and Wurtete have the same father but different mothers. Wurtele grew up an only child and didn’t know about LaRussa until roughly a year ago.
His reaction can be summed up quickly. “Surprised and happy,” Wurtele said,
LaRussa also discovered two half-sisters, one in Texas and the other in New Jersey. Laura Neville resides in Temple, Texas, and first learned about Steve last year. She had been on a quest since the 1980s to find the brother she knew was out there somewhere. She ran into research roadblocks because adoption records in Florida were closed.
Through the years Laura tried every on-line tool and ancestry website she could think of to track down the missing sibling. “I had given up,” Neville said.
Then came an email on May 22, 2019. It was from LaRussa.
“I just shrieked, ‘Oh, my, God!’” Neville said. The quest was over.
She told LaRussa, “I’m your sister.”
He also has a sister named Maureen Neville, who resides in Trenton, N. J.
LaRussa missed his 2019 Hall of Fame induction ceremony because his father was in hospice. Chiro LaRussa died Nov. 18, 2019 at the age of 84. His mother, Pauline, died in 2011.
“Couldn’t ask for better,” LaRussa said.
He has since learned about his birth parents. His mother?
“Was single and couldn’t afford me,” LaRussa said.
LaRussa described him as a “government man.” He leaned his birth father had served in the Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War and later worked as an undercover agent battling moonshiners and the Mafia.
“He lived a very secretive life,” LaRussa said of his birth father, who died in 1995 at the age of 75.
He also learned he has cousins from separate relationships his birth parents had.
“Both my mother and father got around a lot,” LaRussa said.
Through the decades the sisters often talked about the brother they didn’t know and wondered what his life was like or even if he was alive.
“It was a mystery,” Maureen said. But a mystery with a happy ending.
“He’s had a good life,” Maureen said.
It’s a life that has gotten richer in the past year. Connecting the family has been rewarding and emotional.
“I don’t know why it makes me cry,” Maureen said. “I cry tears of joy.”
Part of the joy is knowing her brother ended up with wonderful adoptive parents.
“The best deal you could ever get,” Laura said.
She added of her brother being adopted by the LaRussas, “You won the freaking lottery.”
Hall of Famer Steve LaRussa won another lottery finding his siblings.