At 66, Clifford Boyson is about to meet his only sister for the first time in his life.
If not for his friendship with a 7-year-old Davenport boy, Boyson might never have had the chance.
Boyson’s story began with his birth on the south side of Chicago in 1946. By his 2nd birthday, his mother did what she had done with his older sister, turning Boyson over to foster care.
“From 1948 to 1959, I lived in seven homes and went to six different schools,” he said. “In 1962, my parents visited me, and they said I had three brothers and an older sister.
“I had lived with one of my brothers, but I heard through the Social Security in 1994 that he was dead. I always hoped I would meet my sister before I kiss this world goodbye.”
Though his life had been too difficult to harbor high hopes about many things, Boyson often mentioned his sister. In mid-December, Eddie Hanzelin, 7, did something about it.
“Clifford has been a tenant of ours for a number of years, and him and Eddie are pretty good buds,” Glenn Hanzelin said of Boyson and his son, a second-grader at Trinity Lutheran School in Davenport. “I’d heard them talk about this sister Clifford has and how he’d like to meet her.
“I asked one of my employees to do a search — Ancestry.com and places like that. We didn’t find anything.”
Then Eddie took over, using an iPad to see what he could find.
“He went on Facebook, using what would be his sister’s maiden name,” Hanzelin said. “He puts his little fingers on the iPad to make the picture bigger, and he says, ‘They could be related!’”
Eddie’s parents agreed there was a resemblance and decided to take a shot at contacting the woman they thought could be Boyson’s sister, Betty Boyson Billadeau. They instantly hit a snag: Billadeau’s Facebook wall does not permit messages from non-friends.
So, one of Glenn Hanzelin’s employees tried another route, writing a Facebook message to Billadeau’s daughter, Sarah, on his behalf.
“I am writing you because a tenant in a building I own in Davenport, Iowa, is searching for his lost sister with the name of Boyson,” the message began. “The man I have in Davenport, Iowa, is named Clifford Boyson, and (he) has similar facial features. I nervously await a response back. Hope to hear one way or another.”
The answer came quickly: Betty is, indeed, Clifford’s long-lost sister.
“We didn’t tell Clifford until we were sure,” Glenn Hanzelin said. “Then we said, ‘Eddie’s got a picture for you. Come take a look.’”
Boyson saw the resemblance, too.
“Now I’m told I have nieces,” he said Thursday. “We’re going to meet up this Saturday. We’re going to meet up and talk. I’m hearing that I actually have a pretty big family.”
His sister said she tried for years to find Clifford, but she abandoned the search, based on bad information.
“A message was conveyed to us that he didn’t want to be found,” Betty Boyson Billadeau said Thursday from her home in St. Louis. “I felt I could not intrude on his life.”
Then the email from Davenport arrived.
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“She (Sarah) came in crying and said, ‘Mom, I need a hug,’” she said. “She showed me the email. It’s still hard to believe.”
Glenn Hanzelin knows what kind of impact Saturday’s meeting in Davenport will have on his tenant/friend.
“He lives on Social Security, and he’s never had any family around,” he said. “We’ve always made Clifford a part of our holidays.
“I think that’s one reason Eddie did this. The part he has the most trouble with is he doesn’t understand how they could be apart from each other for so many years. I think what drew him to search was that Clifford doesn’t have a family.”
In fact, Boyson was in a brief marriage in the 1980s, which produced two sons. He lost them, too.
“One of my boys was in a wheelchair, because he was born with water on his head,” he said. “The other was taken away right after he was born in the hospital. One of them went with my ex-wife’s sister, and the state took the other.
“I would like to have my boys back, but you can’t get them back once you give them up.”
Though given up himself, Boyson now looks forward to getting back the sister he didn’t always know he had. And her family is grateful to the 7-year-old who made it possible.
“(The) lessons we all need to take from Eddie is that there is no age limit on friendship,” Sarah Billadeau wrote to the Hanzelins. “Eddie will never know how grateful I am that he found my uncle before it was too late.”