Shaun St. John, 23, right, laughs with his brother Michael Schmoker, 26, during their lunch break at a construction site in northwest Bismarck, N.D. The brothers just recently met and are now living and working together. Schmoker started life on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota but ended up in foster care at 1 1/2 years old. He was then adopted by his foster family, who left South Dakota to return home to Arkansas. Their biological mother, Carol Wind, raised St. John. AP Photo/Mike McCleary
by Virginia Grantier
Bismarck, North Dakota (AP)
Two brothers are working on getting to know each other while they work on a construction crew here.
It was Labor Day when Michael Schmoker, 26, got off a bus in Bismarck, after traveling from Arkansas to meet his 23-year-old brother, Shaun St. John.
Schmoker had started life on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota but ended up in foster care when he was 1 1/2 years old. He was adopted by his foster family, and the family left South Dakota to return home to Arkansas.
Schmoker’s biological mother, Carol Wind, 45, of Crow Creek, who provided the contact information that led St. John to Schmoker, said she also gave up another son for adoption before raising St. John and a fourth son.
Wind said she loves all her sons, but the decision to give up custody of two of them still haunts her. “It seems like I failed,” she said. “Deep down inside, I failed somewhere.”
As a young mother, Wind, in her 20s, was troubled. “I was drinking and running around,” she said.
“It wasn’t too good,” St. John remembers. “There’s a lot of trouble on the rez.”
His best memories of childhood were spending time with his younger brother, whom he had a big part in raising. His worst memories were the deaths of his grandfather and his father, who Wind said committed suicide.
In Arkansas, outside of Clarksville, Schmoker was raised by a homemaker and a retired Air Force pilot. “I was really sheltered,” he said. He and 11 siblings lived on a farm with horses, cattle, ducks, chickens and a huge garden. He did not know he was adopted until about sixth or seventh grade. He did not dwell on it, he said, but he remembers lying in bed and wishing he knew some of his biological relatives.
Schmoker went on to trade school and then to the U.S. Navy for four years, serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq before ending his four-year stint in October 2003.
St. John is close to graduating with an office technologies degree from United Tribes Technical College. He also works and raises three children with his girlfriend, Rhonda Yankton, who persuaded him to try college. She said he is talented in the electronics field. “He can take apart anything and put it back together,” she said.
And now his long-held dream has come true, finding one of his two long-lost brothers. The fourth one is still to be found.
Schmoker waited at the bus station on Sept. 6 for about 15 minutes before St. John, newly back from a visit to South Dakota, could get there to pick him up. “I paced,” he said. “It seemed like an eternity.”
When St. John drove up, Schmoker said, he had to remind himself to breathe. When St. John got out of the car, Schmoker said it was like he was looking in a mirror.
The two hugged for a long time at the Bismarck bus station after meeting, Yankton remembers. Schmoker said he wanted to think of something smart or funny to say, but he was speechless. So they hugged.
St. John wanted to take his “new” brother out to eat and planned on a fast-food meal, but Schmoker was picky.
“I think you should care about what you put into your body,” he said.
Schmoker likes rock ’n’ roll music; St. John likes hip hop. But they found some similarities: Both like to work hard and both discovered they’re serious nail-biters.
After only four days, they said they already feel comfortable together.
St. John got his brother a job with his employer, Northwest Contracting, and Schmoker plans to stay for a while, though he still calls his mother in Arkansas every day.
“I don’t feel unique anymore,” he said.