Book tells story of a little Amish Mennonite, Catholic boy

November 12, 2019 GMT
Robert Richter has collaborated on a book about his successful search for his biological family. (Andrea Johnson/Minot Daily News via AP)
Robert Richter has collaborated on a book about his successful search for his biological family. (Andrea Johnson/Minot Daily News via AP)

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Robert Richter knows his life would have been different if he had been raised with his Amish Mennonite biological family in Pennsylvania instead of in North Dakota, but he knows it would have been a good life.

Richter’s compelling story of his 30-year search for his birth family, entitled “Left Behind on the North Dakota Prairie, Story of a Little Amish-Mennonite, Catholic Boy” is available at bookstores and online.

The story was written by his biological half-sister, Dot Mast Moss, whom he reunited with after his long search, the Minot Daily News reported.

Richter, who retired from the Minot Fire Department in about 2001 after 35 years, grew up in North Dakota and is a graduate of Karlsruhe High School.

According to the book and an interview with Richter, he was born in the Florence Crittenton Home in Fargo on May 10, 1941, and was later placed in the St. John’s Orphanage before he went to live with Anton and Regina Richter when he was about 6 months old. The Richters didn’t complete their adoption until December 1942, when he was 17 months old.

Richter still has many questions about the circumstances of his adoption and what seems to have been some irregularities.

He said he first decided to seek out information about his biological family in the late 1970s after his son, Bobby, was diagnosed with a rare illness and doctors told Richter that he needed more information about his family medical history.

Richter was afraid that he might be a carrier for the disease, but it turned out that the disease ran on Richter’s wife’s side of the family.

Robert and Shirley Richter’s son, Bobby, died of the illness, which turned out to be adrenoleukodystrophy, according to the book, at age 12. The Richters’ grandson, Steven Broadbent, was later diagnosed with the same disease that killed his uncle and died in 2010 when he was 20. Richter’s wife, Shirley, who is a carrier, was later also diagnosed with a form of the disease.

Richter and Steven’s mom, Laurie, have advocated for adding a diagnostic test for ALD to the routine screening done for newborns and for treatments for the disease so that it can be diagnosed early. They also advocate for research into treatments for the inherited disease that might help slow the progression of the illness.

Richter’s daughter, Laurie, was also an invaluable help in his search for his biological parents. Even after he had given up on learning more about his birth parents, his daughter persisted.

Eventually, after 17 years of searching, he made contact with a half-sister on his biological mother’s side and eventually met his birth mother and his relatives on her side of the family.

His birth mother, who was born Maxine Becker, told Richter that she and his birth father, Isaac Mast, had wanted to get married but someone in his father’s family stopped the marriage. Her family was in a difficult situation at the time and she went to the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers to give birth to Richter. She told him that she had not wanted to give him up and that she never signed anything. She told him that she had gone to the orphanage one day to feed him and found that he was gone.

His birth mother somehow knew that Mast had married, had children, and later became a Mennonite minister.

However, Catholic Family Services did not provide him information about his biological father because they claimed that paternity had never been established.

More digging turned up information about Richter’s biological father and, after some initial hesitation on their part, he made contact with his half siblings and cousins on that side of the family as well.

His birth father had died in 2002, but Richter learned that Isaac Mast had been born in Minot into an Amish-Mennonite family that was originally from Pennsylvania.

Richter has since met many members of his biological father’s family. He said there is a strong family resemblance between himself and his biological father.

Learning about his biological family has helped him feel complete, he said.

His biological half-sister, Dot Mast Moss, persuaded him to tell his story to give encouragement to other people who have had a difficult search for long lost family members.


Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com