When Martin Schmidt, who was adopted as an infant, reached out to find his biological parents, he didn’t know he would be officiating at their wedding a year later, writes Natalie Shutler.
Martin Schmidt knew from a young age he was adopted, but he didn’t seek out his biological parents until he was about to have children of his own. His adoptive parents, William and Cynthia Schmidt, gave him the paperwork he needed for meeting his biological parents when he turned 18 but “didn’t push it,” Schmidt said. “They absolutely loved me like I was biologically born. I have a great family.”
Still, Schmidt, 36, a road foreman for Gunnison County in Colorado, said finding out his wife, Carin, was pregnant in 2014 with their firstborn, Malcolm, “kind of pushed the issue. It made me want to meet the rest of the family I didn’t know.”
He initiated contact through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, and the state first got in touch with his biological mother, Michele Newman. At the time, she was living in Hilo, Hawaii, working at a families services nonprofit organization with men who had experienced or were accused of domestic violence.
Newman was on her lunch break when she received the call from the state. She burst into tears. “It was immediate waterworks,” she said. “I called my mom. Then I went back to work and told my boss, ‘I’ve got to go home for the rest of the day.’”
Within a few days, she and Schmidt spoke on the phone. “It was just incredible, and overwhelming to hear his voice,” Newman said.
Schmidt said, “We were two strangers, meeting for the first time, who already had an emotional bond.”
Newman told Schmidt about the day he was born, 35 years earlier, during a severe snowstorm that kept Newman from leaving the hospital for days. At the time, Newman, now 53, was a high school junior. She and Schmidt’s biological father, Dave Lindgren, grew up in the small farming community of Loyal, Wisconsin, and their families were close.
But Lindgren was a little older, and in addition to going to high school, he was working at a dairy plant. The two had dated for several months and broke up before Newman realized she was pregnant.
“There was never any real bitterness between us,” she said. “Dave was a good man with a good heart, and we were both doing things we shouldn’t have.”
Still, the lack of bitterness — and the support of her family — didn’t make Newman’s high school experience any less isolating. After graduation, she left town and embarked on a peripatetic life, living in different cities in Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and finally Hawaii. She married twice but had no other children.
“I had always wondered about Martin,” Newman said. “I felt so blessed that this happened in my life at 50-something years old.”
A couple of weeks later, Newman was still turning it all over in her head. “I was thinking about who I am and where life had taken me,” she said. “It had been 35 years, and I hadn’t spoken to Dave since I told him I was pregnant.”
But she knew he had consented to opening the adoption file, too and that he might have spoken with Schmidt. She decided to reach out, curious to know what he was feeling. “My plan was just to send him a text,” Newman said.
When he got her text, Lindgren was five hours ahead, getting ready for bed at his home in Marshfield, Wisconsin. “It was an odd area code and number, so at first I ignored it,” Lindgren, 55, said. “But once I realized who it was, we texted back and forth a few times, and I asked, ‘Do you mind if I give you a call?’”
Since they last spoke, Lindgren had married three times and had become a father many times over. “I have four biological children, including Martin, and four stepchildren that are also my kids,” Lindgren said. “I was always meant to be a dad.”
He had stayed in central Wisconsin and worked his way up to being a plant manager at Lynn Dairy. A self-proclaimed milk and cheese obsessive, he is also certified as a master cheese maker through the University of Wisconsin, specializing in cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella and provolone.
On that fateful day in December, when Newman texted him, he hadn’t yet heard from his firstborn. (“I was spacing out the calls a bit for the emotional load,” Schmidt said.)
Lindgren was eager to hear about his son but expected his conversation with Newman would be a short one. Four hours later, at 2 a.m., he got off the phone and realized there was still so much more to say.
A few days later, they spoke on the phone again. And then they couldn’t stop talking. He learned about the many jobs she held before she moved to Hawaii in her 40s and got her undergraduate degree and a masters in counseling psychology. He learned about her passion for advocating for victims of sexual assault and those struggling with addiction. Newman learned that Lindgren was going through a divorce, and about his children and the goings-on of his large extended family.
“We had long deep discussions,” Newman said. “We were going through all these serious life topics. We became very close that way.”
Soon, they were talking every day, sometimes multiple times. And one day Lindgren said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii.”
Newman said: “I didn’t think this was any romantic kind of thing. Dave was in the middle of a divorce.”
So she said she’d be happy to show him around the Big Island. For his part, Lindgren knew there was an “instant connection.” And though he was interested in Hawaii, he had never before had any intention of traveling there. He bought two tickets for the trip — one for him, and one for his nephew Nate, who could double as a travel partner and potential buffer.
Newman picked up leis and drove to the airport to greet them. When she saw Lindgren walking down the escalator toward her, something shifted.
“I guess my heart was already halfway there,” she said. “Because the minute I saw him, I just thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God.’”
He felt it too. “I could just tell,” he said. “This is it.”
They gave each other a hug. And then a kiss. And from there, Lindgren said, “it took over from us being 16 and 17 years old again.”
The vacation was a romantic success — they ate sushi, went swimming with manta rays, toured a volcano overlook — but both Lindgren and Newman worried about what might happen next. “I’ve never had that hard of a time leaving anywhere,” Lindgren said. “I worried I might not ever see her again.”
Even some 4,000 miles and five hours apart, the two continued to talk every day. Separately, they were also talking with their son more and more.
Schmidt was having other new conversations, too.
“We quickly started hearing from my biological grandmothers,” Schmidt said. “We get cards, presents for the kids’ birthdays, for our birthdays — that warmth has made it really simple to become part of the family.”
Within a few months of the Hawaii trip, Newman decided to move back to Wisconsin for good. It wasn’t just about Dave. “I wanted to be closer to my mom,” she said. “And I just started to feel Hawaii wasn’t the place for me to be anymore.”
She was also very eager to meet her son. She packed her belongings and flew to the mainland, meeting her mother, Kay Schaefer, in Portland, Oregon. The two then embarked on a road trip back to Wisconsin, with a significant stop in Colorado.
“She drove to me first,” Schmidt said. “It’s a powerful moment to give a hug to your birth mom.”
It was during this visit that Schmidt learned of the romance unfolding between his biological parents.
“Dave posted a picture of them in Hawaii on Facebook and I thought, ‘There’s definitely something happening here,’” Schmidt said. “But Michele’s visit was when we understood she was going back to be with her mom and see if this relationship with Dave would really work.”
The new relationship worried some of her family at first. Newman’s sister, Teri Bruna, said that when she heard Dave and Michele were dating again, she thought it was “really bizarre. I was shocked when she moved back to Wisconsin. Michele hates the cold.” But, she said, “Dave is probably the nicest guy on the planet and he makes my sister happy.”
Schaefer also worried. She told Lindgren at one point: “You weren’t my favorite person. If you hurt her again, I’m going to kill you!”
But as the couple’s love grew, their families grew close again, too. (Lindgren’s mother, Edna, said of Newman’s mother, Kay: “She was one of the first people I met when we bought the farm.” Schmidt was the first grandchild for both of them. “You can’t forget that,” she said.)
The couple moved in together, and on Dec. 12, 2015, exactly one year after that fateful first text message, Lindgren proposed. She protested at first. They had both been married multiple times, and she felt it was unnecessary when they knew how they felt about each other. “I told him, ‘We’re old. We don’t need this,’” she said.
But he insisted. “I want to marry my sweetheart,” he told her.
On the first Saturday in August, he did. The wedding was a casual backyard affair, hosted at the couple’s home, a white house nestled between cornfields in Marshfield, Wisconsin.
The events of the day were held somewhat in reverse: First, there was a party, followed by dinner, and at sunset, a quick ceremony.
About 100 guests, including Schmidt’s wife, Carin, and their children, Malcolm, 3, and Willow, 1, mingled about. Strings of icicle lights were hung from the edges of white tents, and tables were set with Mason jars filled with flowers from the bride’s garden. Instead of a DJ there was a box of CDs. A sleepy yellow lab named Summer snoozed under the buffet table. Several guests had parked campers and pitched tents in the yard so they wouldn’t have to drive home later.
Steely gray clouds and gusty winds threatened rain all afternoon, but the weather held until right before the ceremony. A brief but intense downpour around 7:15 p.m. sent several guests out into the yard to save the huppah. Newman, who was raised Roman Catholic but converted to Judaism when she married her second husband, had fashioned it out of tall branches and a lace tablecloth from her grandmother.
Newman, who wore a white lace peplum top and a peacock-blue skirt, stood before her guests and said: “With every blessing, there’s some sadness. But I wouldn’t change any of this at all. The day that I got the call that Martin wanted to reach out to us was the best day of my life. And it’s just gotten better every day after that.”
The groom, in black shorts and a white athleisure polo shirt, was even more succinct. “I never thought in a million years this would happen,” he said. “It’s just awesome.”
Naturally, their son, the one who reunited the two high school sweethearts, officiated the ceremony. (Several years earlier, he was ordained, on a lark, by the Church of the Latter Day Dude. This was a delight to Newman, whose favorite movie is “The Big Lebowski,” for which the online church is named.)
Standing safely under the big tent while the rain poured, Schmidt grinned and began the ceremony. “For those of you who haven’t met me, I’m Martin Schmidt; I’m their son,” he said to loud cheers. “And related or not, this is the group of people we call family.”