Sheri Samson Rena Funke, left, shown with her adoptive mother Mary McKenna

Sheri Samson
Rena Funke, left, shown with her adoptive mother Mary McKenna

There is usually something endearing between a mother and a daughter, even when that daughter, Rena Funke, was adopted.

Mary McKenna explained, “I lost my two year old daughter to an accident, which felt like the end of my world at the time. I couldn’t have any more children myself, but I was grateful to still have my son. When I found out that Catholic Charities could help me adopt another child, it felt like a window had opened. When I told my son that he was getting a baby sister, he wanted to name her. He said because she was born in Reno, she should be named Rena.”

“Rena was just three days old when we went to the hospital to get her. The nurses were all informed of the plans, so they gave her to me like a gift, and she was beautiful. Then they had me sit in a wheelchair, and I was wheeled out of that hospital as if I had birthed her myself. It felt great, and I can still see that moment today”.

As McKenna shared, one could see the fulfillment in her eyes as she spoke of that eventful day.

The months leading up to her baby’s adoption were so involved with massive forms, background checks, home checks, plus interviews, that McKenna almost backed out. The overwhelming involvement was necessary as the placement would be coordinated with strict precision. The agency was detailed in the manner in which they chose the parents for the child; trying to match up skin tones, possible hereditary qualities and reviewing backgrounds. Back in the fifties, the closer the child looked to the adoptive parents the better the match. This could allow for a better transition into the home setting, with less questions coming from friends or school associates.

For this adoptive daughter, there weren’t any questions about who her parents were. She knew who was mothering her, and although she was raised by a stepfather, Ron, from an early age, he was always the father she knew and loved. Growing up, there was nothing to differentiate her from anyone else’s situation, until one day when she was home sick at the age of ten.

Funke recalled, “I was pretty ill at the time, but out of nowhere my mother came in to take care of me and randomly mentioned that I was adopted. I asked her what that meant and she explained it as simply as she could, saying I didn’t come out of her belly when I was born. Still pushing for a better answer, my mother had to explain that I was actually born from another woman, who had to give me away. She said that the lady just couldn’t afford to keep me.”

That explanation seemed somewhat satisfactory.

“I remembered excitement about it, since my mother said I was chosen and special because I was picked out. Because of that, I was all excited to share it at school, but when I said that I was adopted the kids would just say, ‘what’s that?’ and keep on playing. It didn’t seem like a big deal after that.” Over time, Funke said the adoptee label did bring up a lot of basic questions, but she avoided talking about it, so as not to offend her mother. “It felt like this huge puzzle about me and although I wanted to figure it all out, it was like walking on pins and needles around the issue. I never wanted to disappoint or hurt those that had loved me and yet there was a biological past that I wanted to uncover and know about. There was also the fear of rejection lurking around the corner of the truth.”

It was through that driven curiosity that a recent puzzle piece was revealed. In weaving through channels of information and meeting with the Reno Catholic Charities adoption worker, there were some tidbits substantiated in finally knowing more of who she was. An envelope was stuffed full of folded paperwork, describing her birth parents sizes and traits; her real nationality; some first names of these birth parents and the fact that she had two siblings from her birth mother, and most likely some on the birth father’s side too.

It was a lack of finances, the birthmother’s reputation and an irresponsible relationship that landed her away from her own two children in Las Vegas and into Reno at the Catholic Charities for assistance.

The decision for adoption was based upon the reality that she wanted this child to have a better life. On the father’s side was a name, which was unusual enough to be shared, which Funke did share with her pastor’s wife, Annette, while on a drive to Las Vegas.

Funke explained, “Well oddly enough, his last name rang a bell with her friend’ s name, which led to some phone calls and that allowed me to actually meet with my first cousin in Vegas. It was just a total God-thing and was just meant to be. This first cousin’s father has been my birthfather’s brother, so I got to see an old black and white photo of all the handsome brothers. I sadly found out my birthfather had been killed in a motorcycle accident years ago, but it still brought information to me and a real blood relative as a contact. It gave me some closure.”

As McKenna and Funke shared the written information, it was clear that their relationship was solid. McKenna said “I told her to go look for her birthparents once she was 18, but she hesitated and never seemed to search it out. She may have thought it would bother me, but we are secure with each other and I just want her to be happy. I hope she finds out more and hasn’t waited too long to do her search, but I support her in whichever way she wishes to go with it.”