Silver Springs Woman Meets Brother She Never Knew Existed

Toni VanCleave, a 58 year old Silver Springs resident, received the surprise of her life when she found out she had a 73 year old brother, Alan Nimke.

The siblings met at the Carson City Rendezvous where VanCleave was participating in a Civil War re-enactment. VanCleave was surprised to find out Nimke also had an interest in the Civil War, a discovery made during their first conversation.

VanCleave recalls, “He goes, ‘We’re off to see a presentation on Ulysses S. Grant.’ I go, ‘No kidding, I’m off to see my friend Robert E. Lee.”

The Discovery

Nimke’s mother never told him his birth father left him. It wasn’t until he was seven that he discovered his birth certificate and his former last name—Westbrook. Nimke’s mother never told him the details of his parent’s divorce and he eventually forgot about it because he was very happy with his adoptive father, the man his mother re-married.

For the majority of Nimke’s life, he never questioned anyone about his birth father until a health problem aroused his curiosity. His wife, Ruby, prompted him to search for his father’s medical history and the two set off  uncovering divorce records and an obituary hoping they would find more children.

“He was 19 years old when my birth father married my mother, so I knew he must have had more of a life after that,” Nimke said.

Nimke found VanCleave and asked his daughter to send her a friend request on Facebook. When VanCleave saw it, she ignored it, thinking it was from someone she didn’t know. She then discovered that Bill Westbrook, another brother, was a mutual Facebook friend, which led her to believe this person was more than a stranger. She asked him about the girl sending her the request.

“He said, ‘It’s someone you’re going to know. Sit down,” VanCleave recalled. “I had no clue at all (of another brother).”

The siblings talked by phone and were astounded how similar they sounded and shocked by their mutual interest in the Civil War. They decided to meet at a Civil War re-enactment where VanCleave was a participant.

VanCleave’s fellow participants mentioned how excited she was to meet her brother. She had been talking about their meeting for weeks.

“This is downright incredible, especially at our ages,” she said. “My cheeks are hurting from smiling so much

When the siblings met, they were equally surprised about their similarities, and they wasted no time sharing the details of their past.

VanCleave noticed how much he looked like their father. She referred to her father as “dad,” yet Nimke did not express the same sentiment.

Though the siblings’ father left Nimke at one years old, Ruby Nimke felt his leaving was for the best, especially since Nimke’s adoptive father was so great. VanCleave said their father divorced three times and had six children. Once she turned 14, she did not consider him as impressive.

“You didn’t really miss much,” she told Nimke, “except you didn’t get to form your own opinions.”

Though stories of their father turned the conversation to a negative tone, they still shared many topics of shared interest and enjoyed their time together. They talked about their brothers, their history and their striking resemblance.

Ruby Nimke said when seeing them together for the first time, “They’re just like family.”