Ruth Lee was going through a number of medical procedures in 2005 and one question kept coming up -- "What can you tell us about your family history?"
"I couldn't tell them anything," Ruth said.
Ruth had been adopted as a baby and had grown up the daughter of a Lutheran minister and his wife in Wallingford, Iowa. She had an adopted older brother, her parents had two birth children, and she was the baby - the family's adopted baby girl.
Her parents had been open about the fact she was adopted from as long as she could remember. She was loved and didn't question it.
"I never thought about looking for my birth mother," Ruth said.
But facing open heart surgery in October 2005, and having gone through previous surgical procedures, Ruth wondered about finding out more about her birth mother. Could she find more to tell her doctors?
Ruth's son, Brian, one of the six children of Charles and Ruth of Viroqua, started digging into the past in 2006. His seven-month investigative odyssey would include him petitioning a South Dakota court to unseal Ruth's adoption papers.
What Brian discovered was a surprise.
"I didn't know that he would find out that my birth mother was actually still alive," Ruth said. "As it turned out we had more information on her than she had received on what happened to me. The court order protects both the mother and the child. I never gave a thought she was still alive."
Brian had found Ruth's mother, alive and well in California. He called her. Seventy-seven years and one day after being adopted, July 2, 2006, Ruth spoke with her birth mother, Minka Disbrow.
Ruth said that talking to her mother, and informing her that she not only had six grandchildren, but also great-grandchildren, was thrilling.
"[Minka] had said a prayer, asking to see me only once sometime before she died," Ruth said. "It turns out she got more than that, a lot more than that. It's amazing."
The next month, the Lees traveled to California to meet Minka. In spring of 2007, Minka visited the Lee family in Viroqua.
Ruth and Minka have stayed in contact, talking often - the pair spoke by telephone just last week.
Minka turned 100 recently and shared her story with friends and the Orange County Register newspaper in Santa Ana, Calif. That story accompanies this story in this week's edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.
Ruth said she was surprised by how much she looks like her birth mother. She is also impressed that Minka worked until she was 87 before retiring and continues to be active, handling management duties at her apartment complex, helping renters and planting flowers.
"She's a very hard worker," Ruth said. "I see a lot of her in my children."