DUNBAR, Pa. — Three siblings searching for each other for decades are celebrating a golden reunion of their own kind.
Dunbar, Penn. resident Mark Pepe and his two sisters, Clarice Casner of Missouri and Leila LeBouef of Louisiana, finally met after being separated as children more than 50 years ago.
The trio’s stepsister, Colleen Deal Davis, who resides in Louisiana next door to LeBoeuf, also took part in the family celebration as the women traveled thousands of miles to Pepe’s home, where they are staying for the week.
“We have a lifetime of catching up,” said Pepe, who plans to show his sisters area attractions.
Pepe is 58 years old, Casner is 59 and LeBouef, 56. They are three of 14 siblings all born in Ohio.
“It was time,” said Casner. “God brought us together.”
Pepe said he became separated from his sisters when they were taken from their mother by the state.
At the time, Pepe was 7 months old and in the hospital for an illness when he was adopted by a Connellsville couple who changed his birth name from Marvin Tobin.
Pepe added his adoptive father was a construction supervisor that his biological father worked under.
“I knew about (Pepe). My mother never hid nothing from us,” said LeBouef.
LeBouef, Casner and Davis each lived with different grandparents while they were growing up and for a while with their father in Denver, Colo.
Casner said she returned to Ohio when she as a teenager to meet and live with her mother when she found out she had other siblings.
LeBouef also lived with their mother for a while.
Davis said her older brothers and sisters told her she had other siblings, but she had never met them.
After LeBouef and Casner each got married, they said they lost touch for about 30 years, but each continued to look for their brother.
Pepe said his adoptive parents told him about his family when he was a boy and gave him the documents to locate them.
Pepe and his sisters said their search for each other started with a phone book when they were teenagers and evolved to contacting attorneys. Casner also spoke with a talk show host several years ago, but the host turned down her topic request because of a lack of information.
According to LeBouef, she was given the wrong last name for Pepe, which made her search even more difficult.
Casner said she also called the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” while Lebouef contacted the “Dr. Phil” and “Ellen” talk shows but didn’t receive a response.
“None of us gave up,” said LeBoeuf.
It wasn’t until February 2012 that Pepe’s wife, Cassandra, typed Casner’s maiden name on the Internet white pages website, along with some information on trying to locate her.
A few hours later, the Pepes received a response from a woman in Georgia, who located Casner and gave her a phone number.
Cassandra Pepe said her husband was at the store, and when he returned home she told him that he would not believe what had happened.
Casner believes the woman may have found her on Facebook, with which she has an account.
Mark Pepe said he dialed the phone number the woman gave him and found himself speaking to Casner’s husband.
“I could tell when my husband’s expressions changed something told me inside that I knew it was him,” said Casner.
Casner said she was numb when she heard Pepe’s voice.
“We talked and cried,” she said.
That’s when Mark Pepe learned LeBouef was also his sister.
“I was shocked,” said Pepe.
Casner next called LeBouef on her cellphone. At the time, LeBouef was in her car at a casino in Mississippi getting ready to eat breakfast when told, “He found us.”
Shortly after, Mark Pepe called LeBouef.
“That was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she said.
Over the last year, Mark Pepe and his sisters have talked on the phone and planned to reunite earlier, but LeBouef had to undergo surgery for diabetes.
“It was God’s destiny, even after we found each other, because Leila was close to death with health problems,” said Casner.
LeBouef said she and her husband plan to renew their wedding vows in celebration of their 25th anniversary in July 2014 and has asked Mark Pepe to walk her down the aisle.
The siblings said they will continue weekly talks on the phone and hope to visit each other once a year.