Our History

Written with fondness by former PACER board member Laura Ingram

Begun in 1979, PACER was primarily the brainchild of Dirck Brown, an adoptee and educator. He served as a Second Lieutenant during the Korean War, earned his doctorate in education from

Adoptee Dirck Brown founded PACER in 1979, the same year that the American Adoption Congress was formed.

Adoptee Dirck Brown founded PACER in 1979, the same year that the American Adoption Congress was formed. [Notable books, articles.]

Columbia University Teachers College, and went on to become Dean of Men at the University of Iowa and Dean of Students at the University of Denver. From 1965 to 1978 Brown worked for the National Education Association (NEA; Washington, D.C. and Palo Alto, CA) to encourage college students to enter teaching professions. [He published many respected books and articles].

Throughout these years Brown became involved in the issues surrounding adoption, its life long impact, and the struggle to open birth records to adoptees. These issues were near to his heart because of his own experiences as an adoptee searching for his birth parents. In 1976, he reunited with his birth mother after completing his search for her and returned to graduate school to earn a license in Marriage and Family Therapy. He quit the NEA and shortly after moving from Maryland to Palo Alto, Dirck started an adoption support group in his living room in the late 1970’s. Not long after this PACER: Post-Adoption Center for Education and Research was born.

PACER’s goal was to provide support to adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents. PACER was unique from the start because participation included all sides of the adoption triad. It quickly became the hub of adoption research and counseling throughout Northern California. Dirck also worked with Tony and Emma Vilardi of International Soundex Reunion Registry to help found the American Adoption Congress (AAC). Dirck later served on the AAC board and was its President and in 1994 was its Vice President.

Dirck had tremendous help forming PACER from birth mother Donna Oman and Joe Davis, MD. Dr. Joe Davis was a renowned pediatrician who understood the life-long issues of adoption, and was a fierce advocate for adoptees’ right to know, even though he had no personal connection to adoption. He was instrumental in arranging PACER panels that represented all sides of the triad to speak during Grand Rounds at Stanford and other Bay Area hospitals. Joe’s connections with Stanford helped secure early assistance from the Palo Alto Medical Research Foundation, which gave PACER office space, staff support, and mentoring.

Also during this time, PACER had a large contingent of adoptive parents as leaders and active members. Other supporters were primarily professionals from the Peninsula. In all, they helped secure the group’s initial foundation and corporate support, which never has been repeated. PACER also began offering support groups all over the Bay Area, organized workshops on transracial adoption, and made presentations at Stanford University Hospital. PACER’s first/second annual retreat was held at the University Club in Palo Alto.

Donna Orman

Donna Orman

In 1979/1980 Donna Oman was PACER’s first president and Dirck was Director. The rest of the board included Kay Naylor, Cynthia Van Osch, Peggy Dias, Molly Brown (Dirck’s wife), Karen Randall, Elizabeth Chang, Gary Deghi, Kathy Hull, Judy Mullins, Cecie Terrien Lampton, and Ann Richmond. PACER had an extensive committee roster made up of board members and 25 members of the PACER Council. The council included Marjorie Borley, Sarah Reese, Bill Fanning, Virginia Keeler-Wolf, Vicki Franco, Mari Speyer, Robin Byrne, Barbara Bice, Sanfong Sui, Doris Ensign, Betsy Chang, Ursula Reimer, Charlotte Brown, Barbara Dawson, and Pat Henderson. Activities during this early time included search assistance and one-on-one counseling. Dirck presented at the AAC conference and began giving talks and workshops.

In 1981, Dirck spoke to an adoptive parents support group in Sacramento and worked with several social work grad students on their research projects; one included a survey of adult adoptees about their experiences as children. PACER also received funding for an 18-workshop series for professionals about “adoption as an alternative.” These presentations were to pregnancy counselors, public health nurses, a variety of school personnel, juvenile justice staff, therapists, social service agencies, special ed teachers and counselors, school staff serving pregnant teens, and panels for prospective adoptive parents. A video library was developed from the presentations, as well as a pamphlet titled “Dialogue for Understanding,” that included essays by members. This pamphlet and a second volume were distributed to agencies and used in other work.

In 1982, Board President Joe Davis resigned after having established the board. He continued to be a medical consultant to the group. Activities at this time included a workshop by Dirck for adoptive parents in New York, presentations to pre-adoptive parents, college classes, and more. In addition, Donna Oman and Joe Davis were on the state board of the Children’s Home Society, a PACER board member offered a first–ever in the nation– course on adoption issues at Starr King Unitarian Seminary in Berkeley, and the Atari computer company donated a computer system. Margaret Govea was the paid PACER bookkeeper at the time and Diane Stein was an office volunteer.

On the board during this time was Harumi Befu, Gene Grossman, Cynthia Van Osch, Fred Parkin, Karen Randall, Cedric Lussier, DDS, Donna Oman, Kay Naylor, Sara Reese, John Miller, Esq. Support group leaders were Virginia Keeler-Wolf for the East Bay adoptee group, Peggy Dias for the Peninsula adoptive parents group, Nancy O’Neill for the East Bay birth parent group, Dirck Brown for the Peninsula adoptees post-reunion group and for the Peninsula birth parent group, Nancy DeGoff for the East Bay adoptive parents group, and Sandie Smith for the East Bay birth parent group.

In 1983, Dirck and Molly Brown left PACER, Susan Varian Hammond came on as the paid director, and PACER’s office relocated to Oakland. On the board was President Gene Grossman, Bob DeGoff, Amy Fonda, Donna Oman, Karen Randall, Marcia Popper, C. Lussier, Duncan King, Sara Reese-Hedberg, Richard Blake, Fred Parkin, Kay Naylor, and Virginia Keeler-Wolf.

In 1984, Martin Brandfon became President. Also joining the board were Colleen Houlihan and Sterling Davis. Gene Grossman, Amy Fonda, and Sara Reese left the board. Karen Henry was on staff and Virginia Keeler-Wolf became director.

In 1985, the board of directors included President Martin Brandfon, Harumi Befu, Marcia Popper, Sterling Davis, Jim Mehlfield, Colleen Houlihan, Virginia Keeler-Wolf, Diane Michelsen and Richard Blake.

In 1986, Virginia Keeler-Wolf was still director and the board included President Diane Michelsen (an independent adoption facilitator and attorney) Richard Blake, Annette Blanchard, Martin Brandfon, Ellen Curtis (later known as Ellen Roseman who was an independent adoption facilitator), Sterling Davis, Colleen Houlihan, Sharon Kaplan (later known as Sharon-Kaplan Roszia and influential pioneer of open adoptions), and Jim Mehlfeld (social worker in Oakland, non-triad member, and board President for 10 years).

Activities this year included workshops on independent adoptions as desirable alternatives for prospective adoptive parents and other pre-adoptive parent workshops. In addition, PR was sent to adoption attorneys publicizing PACER’s pre-adoption groups. PACER, with Virginia K-W as spearhead, was working to establish the Adoption Therapy Center that would offer and promote PACER therapy services.

In 1987, the board included President Diane Michelsen, Virginia Keeler-Wolf, Martin Brandfon, Colleen Houlihan, Annette Blanchard, Jim Mehlfeld, Marcia Popper, and Sterling Davis.

In 1988, the board of directors were D. Michelsen, Kathie Raleigh, Candace Kunz, J. Mehlfeld, S. Davis, C. Houlihan, Virginia K-W, Ellen Curtis, and A. Blanchard. Richard Blake resigned.

In 1989, the board included D. Michelsen, Jennifer Kent, J. Mehlfeld, Carol Olmert, Barbara Heard, C. Kunz, C. Houlihan, Virginia K-W, S. Davis, Michael Haag, E. Curtis, Maurice Weitman, M. Brandfon, Anita Eagleton, and Kate Burke (former President of the American Adoption Congress, searcher, a key player in the 1991 Open Records bill movement in CA, and headed the Consortium for Children). Maurice Weitman became the new executive director and was PACER’s first webmaster. Also on the board roster for this year were new members Jeffrey Kent and Leslie Lauren. Activities included workshops on building your family by independent adoption and a support group for prospective and new birth mothers.

In 1990, Jim Mehlfeld became board President, and board members included Leslie Lauren, Kate Burke, Sterling Davis, Virginia K-W, Ellen Curtis, and Kathie Russell. Diane Michelsen, Colleen Houlihan, and Martin Brandfon all resigned. M. Brandfon continued to offer search workshops. The board voted to offer clinical services and dues increased. PACER’s office was in Walnut Creek. Janine Baer was hired to do the newsletter.

In 1991, PACER’s strengths were their support groups, newsletter, and workshops. PACER began publicizing hours when people could call to talk about their adoption issues on a Warm Line with Catherine Eliaser. In addition, the facilitators began handling communication with their own support group members, instead of PACER’s office. PACER lost its Walnut Creek office and a low number of people were on the board. Ellen Curtis and Leslie Lauren both resigned.

In 1992, PACER had a potluck in January and brought some new volunteers on. Birth mother Lee Ziegler became board treasurer.

In 1993, PACER was having financial troubles and had very low renewals. There was discussion from the board about fundraising and asking celebrities such as Steve Jobs to donate, receiving corporate donations, and how to get group members more involved. The board consisted of President Jim Mehlfeld, Lee Ziegler, Barbara Shafer, Christine Taylor, Kate Burke, and Catherine Sharp. Kate Burke and S. Davis resigned.

Support group leader Jane Calbreath gave a workshop for the board with a drumming circle and began studying PACER’s governance for her graduate school project. She became co-director with Doug Ross. Sarah Alexander and Judy Kimball came on the board. J. Calbreath and D. Ross took over editing the newsletter. New study group guidelines were drafted and the monthly search group was replaced by an annual/biannual search workshops in which M. Brandfon and Kate Burke facilitated.

In 1994, board President was Catherine Sharp. During a board retreat with facilitators and volunteers invited, the board envisioned and brainstormed about PACER’s values. PACER was being rescued. New members included Janet Madonna, David Duffy, and Sandy Gutcher. Judy Kimball resigned and Craig Hyman visited the board on several occassions.

Additional activities included a Commonwealth Club workshop by Nancy Verrier and a co-sponsored fundraising evening withPACT that featured Betty Jean Lifton. There were several search workshops by M. Brandfon, workshops for adoptive parents that highlighted the importance of talking to kids about adoption by Jim Mehlfeld, and a class taught by Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao at the UC Berkeley Extension.

In 1995, an advisory board began with M. Brandfon as member. The board of directors continued to strategize and thought about recruiting independent groups to affiliate with PACER. Merrill Hunn began leading the Marin triad group. The group had a large turnout with 30 attendees. PACER participated in an Marin adoption fair and an “open space” conference was facilitated by J. Calbreath and Doug Ross. The newsletter went back to 4 issues a year. Al Holmstrom attended several board meetings.

In 1996, the board consisted of President J. Calbreath, David Duffy, Sandy Gutcher, Lee Ziegler, Doug Ross, and Gail Smith. The board sent out fundraising letters, applied to host the 1998 American Adoption Congress Southwest regional conference, sent out guidelines to the groups, prohibited dual relationships by therapists, held a search workshop, accepted paid ads for their newsletter, created a website, and articulated board governance policies. The mailing list for the newsletter at this time was 750 names and 300 members. The board also agreed to let Cynthia Calkin organize PACER events in Sacramento. Five support groups followed as a result.

This year was the first year that PACER participated in Reg Day. PACER members staffed tables in 7 cities. PACER also forged a relationship with Bastard Nation. Four new groups were created, one led by Arlyss Anderson. There was discussion for a “call to action” committee with Laura Ingram, Susie Love, Merrill Hunn, and Jane Calbreath. The committee would work on influencing public policy, fundraising, and building PACER’s infrastructure to do more organizing around open adoption records, despite existing bylaws that disavowed any political positions to reassure adoptive parents.

In 1997, Merrill Hunn, Laura Ingram, and Susie Love joined the board. Sandy Gutcher left the board and Nancy Cerf came on later in the year. PACER had 12 support groups and 5 in Sacramento. Bastard Nation’s Damsel Plum taught an internet computer class for board and faciliators in San Rafael. She hosted PACER’s website along with several other public interest sites such as Bastard Nation (Open records for adult adoptees), Chain of Life (Progressive Adoption Newsletter), International Soundex Reunion Registry (World’s oldest and largest mutual consent reunion registry is free!), The Adoption Ring (A ring of webpages devoted to the best interests of the adoption triad), SF Bay Area RegDay (Registration Day 1996), WWW Library of Adoptee-Related sites (Adoptee-related sites with descriptions; organized by subject), and Vietnam – Land of Hope and Prosperity (Human Rights for Vietnam) at www.plumsite.com.

Other activities in 1997 included a large search workshop in Berkeley and a Mother’s Day picnic in Marin. A therapist referral list was compiled and PACER and the AAC committed to a 1998 conference in San Francisco. The board had lengthy visioning sessions, in which many hopeful plans and projects were laid out and the bylaws were changed regarding no political positions. The newsletter’s layout and production was redesigned by Denise Roessle.

In 1998, Susie Love, J. Calbreath, Merrill Hunn, and Laura Ingram did extensive conference planning for the AAC’s Southwest Regional conference titled “May the Circle be Unbroken” in San Francisco. Searcher Colleen Buckner joined the board, Merrill Hunn became treasurer, and PACER became a CEU provider. In addition, PACER provided hospitality at the Bastard Nation conference in San Francisco, the board voted to require PACER membership for support group attendees, and the website host changed to mo.com. Lee Ziegler and Doug Ross left the board.

Activities included board members speaking at Catholic Charities’ monthly pre-adoption meetings and providing an information table at PACT’s adoptive parent training. Quarterly facilitators’ meetings became regular. PACER participated again in Reg Day events in October and then the board focused all its energies for the AAC November conference. In the end, the conference was a huge success due to extensive program planning, a professional’s day with CEU’s. and lots of publicity. Planning began again, mainly by Susie Love, for next year’s healing service.

Read more about the 1998 American Adoption Congrees Southwest Regional Conference here.

In 1999, planning began for a leadership transition because Jane Calbreath was planning to step down. Nancy Cerf was elected as President-to-Be/Assistant to Board President. Renee Besta, Carrie Buckner, and Bob Crowe all joined the board. Spring saw the first adoption healing service at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, which was a great start to a new year.

PACER went through another transition with what direction and vision to uphold.  Newer members were generally eager to step up the pace, however, older members were reluctant to take on too much or to move away from PACER’s historic focus on support groups. To help PACER move forward, the board allowed Suska Davis to study the organization’s governance in exchange for her faciliation of several dialogue and planning meetings. In those meetings, agreement was reached on a set of short-term goals, such as activating PACER’s base, increasing paid memberships, building the website, and designing a professional’s brochure. A lot of time was spent on these planning meetings. Bob Crowe began building his organizational skills to contribute in the redirection and revitalization of PACER.

Activities this year included another summer Mother’s Day picnic in Marin, a fall book event in Oakland with Beth Kane and Susan Ito. PACER moved disengaged from Yellow Page ads and Maurice Weitman designed the new website. Vicki White, Jerilynn Wagner, Maureen Armstrong, Petra Wynbrandt, and Gail Simpson became support group leaders. Merrill Hunn and Nancy Cerf resigned from the board and Gail Smith took a leave of absence. PACER began to work with a hired consultant to work on the professional’s brochure.

The year 2000 seemed to be a busy one for PACER. They began preparing for the upcoming Grace service. Gail Smith returned to the board and Jane Calbreath stepped down after 8 years as board President. Bob Crowe was elected President, Carrie Buckner as Vice President, Colleen Buckner as treasurer, and Laura Ingram as secretary. Renee Besta resigned. The new board began fundraising and building stronger connections with group facilitators. There were efforts to cut back spending, particularly for director’s spending and the newsletter. PACER’s address moved to Oakland. Despite these changes, the Grace service was well attended with 250 people.

Several activities over the year included Susie Love, Arlyss Anderson, Nancy Verrier, and Joe Davis delivering presentations during grand rounds at various medical centers. In addition, news from the AAC conference reported that the AAC and Bastard Nation were burying the hatchet, so to speak, and wanted to work together on an open-records bill in California. CUB: Concerned United Birthparents was also going through some changes with disbandment by its national leadership but survived with the help of a grassroots group. Laura Ingram and Bob Crowe made good connections with Adoption Network Cleveland and Betsy Norris. Ron Morgan became PACER’s webmaster and received our .org domain name. He also organized a statewide

At this time, changes in PACER’s infrastructure were still happening. Support group faciliator Arylss Anderson became treasurer while faciliators Ron Morgan and Denise Roessle also joined the

2000 USPS Adoption Stamp

2000 USPS Adoption Stamp

board. Gail Smith and Colleen Buckner resigned. The new board made efforts to improve its connections with support group leaders and attendees. Laura Ingram took over the newsletter editing duties from Jane Calbreath. Susie Love and Bob Crowe met with an ethics in adoption task coalition. Improvements were made for the newsletter and reaching PACER’s members. PACER hosted 6 Reg Day sites and a search workshop in October.opposition to a California bill that would legalize baby abandonment while Bob Crowe spoke on the opposition’s behalf during the bill’s state Senate hearing. Several board members celebrated the Department of Children & Families unveiling of a new adoption stamp released by the U.S. Post Office.

A fall membership campaign began and brought good success. Many new and old members came in. PACER again reflected on their outreach, colloborate partnerships, financials, and educational outcomes. The board decided on targeting adoptive parents with small children for potential supporter and educational opportunities. As a result, focus was spent on delivering services to adoptive parents, providing CEU events, updating the website, developing resource workshop, video, school curricula, etc. resources, and expanding current efforts. The board had a long list to implement for 2001.

Several end of the year activities included Carrie Buckner and Susie Love presenting an infertility workshop to clergy membersand the facilitator’s meetings continued. PACER held a well-attended holiday party in Oakland.

In 2001, the year began with Pat Cobb and Jonathan Pannor joining the board. New group faciliator’s included Mary Gardner and Dana Daniel in Sacramento and Laura Cusack, Ann Parkinson, and Garrett Chin in Oakland. Merrill Hunn left the Marin triad group after many years. PACER scheduled many events and workshops for the year and took steps to support California’s Open 2001 access to closed adoption records headed by Ron Morgan. The board prepared for the AAC conference in southern California and for PACER’s third annual Adoption Unity Gathering, both in April.