Sheriff David Lee has had an awesome life.
“I’ve never went to bed hungry and I always had clothes on my back,” he said.
It was more than the necessities. Lee was adopted from the Nebraska Children’s Home in Omaha when he was just two months old.
“First of all, I want you to know, I hold no ill-will toward anyone and I will only still have one set of parents, a mom and a dad,” he told his birth mother when he spoke to her for the first time.
Lee had contacted the children’s home in 1994 to find out who his mother was because he had questions about his medical history.
“It wasn’t an issue, but I started realizing things as I got older,” he said. Lee really wanted to know if there was a history of heart disease and other illnesses in his family.
The children’s home couldn’t give him an answer about his mother right away because first, the home had to check if there was a no contact clause attached to his adoption.
“If the mother doesn’t want to be contacted, there is nothing you can do,” Lee said.
The children’s home found Lee could proceed. He was instructed to write a letter to the caseworker and couldn’t include his last name or address.
“Nothing real personal could be in the letter,” he said.
Lee was living in York at the time, and serving as a lieutenant for the sheriff’s office. He’s been in law enforcement for 36 years with 26 of them spent in Thayer County, and said he can’t remember a time he wanted to be something other than a police officer.
One night, he was getting ready for work and she called.
“A female asked if I was David Lee, and I said yes. I thought it was work-related,” he said.
“Are you tracing your biological mother? I think I am your biological mother,” she said.
They started talking. She knew Dave Stukenholz, a fellow officer and friend of Lee’s.
“You have to know who your brother is,” she said. “Troy Schmitz, my son. That’s your brother.”
“The first time I ran into Troy was about 1991 at Country Kitchen. Stuk called and I met him for coffee,” Lee said.
He didn’t know he was sitting across the table from his brother, who would later become the sheriff of Webster County.
The two are close.
“My kids call him Uncle Troy, his boys are my nephews. It’s never been awkward,” Lee said.
The similarities between the two are somewhat uncanny. Lee was in corrections in Buffalo County from 1985-1987 and Schmitz, 1989-1991. They are both members of the Nebraska Sheriff’s Association and see each other at trainings, and through other law enforcement events.
Likewise, Lee’s birth mother used to drive by Lee’s parents’ home and admire the elder Lee’s Morgan horses.
Lee was adopted with his sister, Audrey, who died when she was three years old, and his parents then adopted Claudia. Lee grew up with Claudia. When he was 12, his parents biologically had Andrea.
He believes in adoption.
“Adoption is a great thing. I’m so glad people are willing to do that,” he said.
Lee’s parents are gone now, but their and their kids’ belief in adoption lives on.
His sister and her husband, Scott and Andrea Louderback, started the William E. and Elaine F. Lee Family Foundation.
“They just donated $5,000 to the Nebraska Children’s Home to assist with adoptions,” Lee said. Another $5,000 was donated by the foundation to Thayer Central for special education, another personal touch on Lee’s life as he watches his grandson with special needs grow.