Berrien County family meets after being reunited by Facebook page

NOW: Berrien County family meets after being reunited by Facebook page


They thought their half-brother had died during the Vietnam War. Thanks to a Michiana Facebook page, they were reunited with him this weekend.

 “I was in tears,” said Sonja Gustafson Podjan, describing the moment she met her half-brother on Friday.

“You were just vibrating,” joked Lee Gustafson, Sonja’s half-brother. “I just kept holding onto you.”

In a moment captured on cellphone video, Sonja and Lee embraced for the first time.

It was a hug once thought to be impossible.

The Gustafson family has grown in recent months.

While there are no new children or marriages, there was Friday’s unlikely reunion.

“It seems strange, after having believed for so many years that he was dead, you know?” said Sonja. “And now he’s here! And it’s just like really, actually just really wild!”

This story started back in February.

ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz first met Sonja on her blueberry farm in Watervliet.

She had just found out her half-brother Lee – who she thought died in the Vietnam War decades ago – was actually alive.

In the report from February, it was explained that Sonja and Lee’s father, Swan, had been married four times and had four children with three of his wives.

But Sonja and her biological brother Scot never learned much about their father’s past.

She said they knew they had other siblings from their father’s prior marriages, but not much else.

“My dad was a really private person, and, even with his children I don’t think he really spoke of his past,” Sonja had said in her February interview.

But the past came back to life this weekend.

Sonja and Scot finally met their half-brother Lee.

“It’s nice,” said Scot. “It’s satisfying that a chapter in your life that you thought was closed is actually not closed.”

“My daughter Liane is the one that pieced it all together off of Ancestry and she really did the work,” said Lee. “And really, this wouldn’t have happened [without her].”

Liane Gustafson was searching for her father’s roots when she stumbled upon the Benton Harbor, St. Joe Memories Facebook page.

“Finding Sonja so quickly through that group was just shocking,” she said.

Swan Gustafson had lived much of his life in Benton Harbor after coming to America from Sweden.

Sonja and Scot still live in Berrien County, while Lee and his family are 600 miles north in the UP.

“Now I’ve got all these new people in my life and, personally, I love it!” said Sonja. “I just think it’s amazing.”

The Gustafson’s spent their Saturday getting to know each other and sharing stories about Swan.

“He would let me suck on the ice cubes of his whiskey glass,” said Sonja, recounting one story. “And I think my mom would’ve killed him if she’d have known!”

They also took a walk through Sonja’s garden.

A love for gardening is something all three siblings share – and seemingly got from their dad.

And with each laugh shared throughout the afternoon, a new family bond continued to blossom.

“I’m just glad you’re here,” Sonja said to Lee, embracing him once again.

The Gustafson family reunion will continue for the next few days.

Sonja, Scot and Lee said they’re really excited for Scot’s daughter, Emily, to meet her new cousins and aunt and uncle once she gets home from a trip she’s on.

The family said they all plan on staying in touch and visiting each other; they might even travel to Sweden one day to connect with their father’s family.   

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