Note: Bill and I stayed for the second year in a row at Krisann Santiago-Dean and Samuel Dean’s welcoming home on the North Kohala Coast of the Big Island. Last year they mentioned searching for Samuel’s father, Spencer Dean, whom Samuel had not seen since he was eight years old. Fifty years later, Samuel found his father, thanks to determined sleuthing from his wife Krisann, and their son Arden. We sat in the comfortable living room of Krisann’s childhood home on a recent morning, and learned of the remarkable reunion.

Arden Dean, and his parents Krisann Santiago-Dean and Samuel Dean at the entrance to Krisann’s family home where she was raised. Photo by Kate Poss

Samuel said he was named for his grandfather on his mom’s side, and explained his Hawaiian lineage.

“Samuel—our names have meaning,” Samuel said.”When you’re named after someone, you’re not called Junior, you’re called Kainoa. When I grew up, my family would know me as Kainoa.”

His grandfather Samuel K. Kaloi’s second name, Kapelawohilani, meant peacemaker, a quality that Samuel Dean inherited, which helped him survive being raised in a tough neighborhood of Keaukaha, near Hilo, where he lived with his grandparents. The peacemaker legacy would help him find the courage to meet his father in later life.

“You’ll remember this story, when I talk about my dad,” Samuel said.

The story unfolded that Spencer Dean, a white man, grew up in Knightdale NC. He was stationed in Honolulu when he met Samuel’s mom, Iwalani, and married her. Spencer was ordered to Vietnam, and Iwalani, stayed behind. Meanwhile, Iwalani gave birth to a little boy.

Samuel credits his grandma Iwalani Kalalahua, who was grandfather Samuel’s wife, with rescuing him. Iwalani the younger, told her mother she was going to give her son up the day she gave birth to him on Oahu.

A photo of Samuel’s grandparents who raised him

“When I was born, my grandma (who lived in Hilo) learned that my mom was giving me up for adoption in Honolulu,” Samuel recalled. “My grandma boarded a plane wearing rubber boots, outside clothes, and walked straight into the hospital. She told my mom: “You give that baby away, you don’t come home.’ My dad was in Vietnam. When my grandma was walking away, my mom yelled, ‘OK, OK.’ My mom signed off on me.”

The baby came home unnamed, and his grandparents chose his name for his grandfather, and for his maternal uncle, Samuel. Uncle Samuel, served in the Korean War with a man named Curtis, who saved Samuel’s life, but died. While Curtis was dying, he asked his buddy to name a son after him.

“My uncle had a hard choice by naming his only son Samuel or Curtis,” Samuel recalled. “My uncle named his son Curtis for the man who died. When I came home, my grandad said my name was Samuel.”

And so Samuel Dean was raised near Hilo by his grandparents. He remembers the only time he saw his dad was when he was eight years old, when Spencer Dean had finished serving in Vietnam.

“He knew about me, and wanted to see me and take me with him,” Samuel recalled. “My mom and dad did not stay together and he had remarried. My grandma had not legally adopted me.”

Samuel recalled going up to his grandparents’ living room with his half sister, whose name he recalled as Heidi or Heather, aged 3, from his dad’s second marriage, while the adults talked downstairs.

Spencer said he had a legal claim to his son, Samuel.

“My grandma —I called her mama—she said, ‘Get the hell out,” Samuel recalled. “You gotta remember where I lived. If you were a stranger, and you came in that community, you were asking for trouble. Back then the laws were a lot more loose.”

That was the last time Samuel saw his father until 50 years later.

“My dad went away and never came back,” Samuel added. “All I remember is a tall man with brown hair and blue eyes. My half-sister Heather put an ad in the newspaper in Oahu looking for me, but there was no answer. Mom later moved to Kona. She remarried and had three kids. When me and Mom got together, I was civil, but we would get upset with each other. Communication wasn’t much. She never said anything about my dad. There would be an underlying tension. Once when I was little, I asked about my dad and it was never brought up again. I grew up thinking my dad never wanted me. Why wouldn’t he come looking for me again? I built up a wall.”

Samuel said his grandma was strict, which probably kept him from getting in too much trouble while growing up.

Meanwhile, Krisann, Samuel Dean’s now wife, was raised in Kapa’au, where her popular dad was considered the mayor of the town.

“As a young girl growing up here, I learned you don’t go to Keaukaha,” Krisann noted.

Krisann and Samuel met when they were each working at the Mauna Lani resort on the Big Island’s posh Gold Coast.

“When Krisann would ask about my dad, I would say, ‘It’s up to you to find my dad,’” Samuel recalled.

Krisann and Samuel married and had a son, Arden, who is now 27. As he grew older, Arden began asking stories about his last name, Dean. Familiar with Krisann’s parents as grandparents, Arden wanted to know about his dad’s side of the family.

“I carried the last name and wondered what I would tell my kids, where does the Dean name come from?” Arden said.

Arden and Krisann searched numerous records, only to find dead ends until 2023, when a clue finally emerged.

Samuel’s mom died in 2007, and his youngest half-sister’s daughter Kairie went through her grandmother’s things years later.

A photo of Samuel Dean’s birth mother Iwolani, at her memorial service in 2007

“She found my mom and dad’s marriage certificate,” Samuel said. “They were married Nov. 16, 1964.”

Fast forward to Sept. 2023. Kairie texted a photo of the marriage certificate to her cousin Arden.

“I didn’t know my grandparents were married,” Arden said. “I showed it to my mom. She asked, “What are you talking about?’”

Arden and Krisann sprang into action to locate his dad once again. “She is like a Bloodhound, you give her a scent, and she will dig,” Samuel said.

Krisann researched Mormon Church ancestry records. Arden researched genealogy.

Krisann searched obituaries and found that a Charles Dean died, leaving behind a brother named Spencer. She searched the grandparents’ obituary, and found a surviving kin, Heather, now Heather McInnes. From that moment it was known that Samuel’s half-sister’s name was Heather, not Heidi.

“Krisann knew Heather was five years younger than me, born in 1970,” Samuel said. “She guessed Heather would be living on the East Coast, that’s where they moved to. She kept on searching. She pulled up thousands of Heathers on Facebook, and saw a Heather born in the 1970s. Then, Krisann found one in Georgia. She had 4000 friends. Krisann searched, and found my dad’s name, Spencer Dean among her friends.”

‘I’m a detective.…I’m looking at her,” Krisann said. “I said I’ve got to find this person. Under her name, I searched Spencer Dean. I saw this older man and pulled him up. I go, ‘interesting.’ I’m sitting at our house. It was Nov. 8 at 3:40 PM. Samuel was at work. Heather had posted, ‘Looking good, Dad,’ on a photo of Spencer. I started screaming.”

Arden wondered what had happened.

“I heard my mom yelling my name. I ran out of my room,” Arden said.

“We’re shaking,” Krisann recalled. “Arden grabbed the phone from me.”

I asked her, ‘How confident are you that these are the people we’re looking for,’” Arden said.

“I’m 99 percent—-“ Krisann said.

Samuel cut in: “It’s out of character for Arden, for him to grab the phone and say, ‘I’ll message Heather—”

Arden jumped in with “—I’m not waiting. The worse that could happen is that they could say no. At least if I’m told then I can brush it off my shoulder. If my dad were to ask, it would devastate him if they said no.”

Arden sent a Facebook Personal Message: “Hello Heather, I’m Arden Dean. My father is Samuel Dean. Born in Oahu, HI. Raised in Hilo HI. I’ve done some research about my family history, because I’m trying to make a family tree. I would love to know more about my dad’s side of the family. Is your father Spencer Frances Dean? Mahalo, (thank you) Arden Dean.”

Five minutes later, Heather wrote back.

“She was watching the country music awards, “ Arden added.

Heather wrote: “Oh wow, I am so excited to hear from you. I have been trying to find Samuel for years. I would love to share info.’

First contact with Samuel’s half sister, Heather. Arden saved the text on his phone

Krisann, said, “We cried and cried and cried.”

Arden  wrote back: “Hi Auntie. I would love that. My dad has been trying to find you guys as well. If you would like to call…”

Arden experienced a flash of intuition, knowing things were aligning.

“That surreal moment when you’re making sure we are who we are.” Arden said. “It’s that feeling that you know somebody. It’s just like, after that initial talking of who we are, it’s instant. This is us.”

Krisann added: “We talked. I knew Samuel would call me soon on his meal break. Heather and I are talking. She’s on Arden’s phone. I took my phone. Samuel asked, ‘What’s going on.?’ I said, talk to your sister. I held my phone to Arden’s phone.”

Samuel said, “I’m dumbfounded, because I’m at work. I said, ‘Hi Heather I’m at work, I can’t talk much. I’m excited to talk to you.’ It was definitely hard to go back to work.”

Krisann learned from Heather that Spencer Dean was still alive: “He’s alive? He’s got health issues. He’s 81. His birthday was Oct. 4.”

Spencer Dean was contacted where he lived in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and agreed to meet on a Zoom conference call in three days.

The number 11 is important to Krisann and Samuel because they started dating on 11/11/93. Their 29th wedding anniversary is April 29, 2024.

“We like to think things happen to us for a reason,” Samuel said. “There’s a higher power. Our number is 11/11. When we got married April 29, Krisann said, ‘Bingo, I add the numbers 2 and 9 together and I get 11.’”

Samuel recalled his family crying when they first saw his dad on the Zoom conference call.

“What was so amazing was that my dad cried,” Samuel said. “After all that, Krisann said she started seeing the walls in my life start to come down.”  Samuel wiped his tears away at the recent memory.

Though Samuel acted as if finding his dad was unimportant in the past, Krisann knew her husband better.

“I KNEW that it did matter,” Krisann said.

Samuel called his father Dad, something new to him.

“That was so special,” Krisann said. “I never heard my husband call anyone Dad other than my dad, who passed in 2001.”

The family had planned on taking a trip to Florida, visiting Walt Disney World, but Krisann couldn’t find flights. While Sam was working, Krisann and Arden began talking.

“You want to see Granddaddy?” Krisann asked.

Arden said, “I was thinking the same thing.”

Krisann told Samuel that she and Arden wanted to go to Myrtle Beach instead of Florida.

“You want to drop Florida and go see my Dad? You’d do this for me?” Samuel asked.

“Of course, I’d do that, after all you’ve done for my parents,” Krisann told him, recalling how Samuel cared for her parents as they aged, became ill, and passed on. “You’ve got to ask your dad.”

On a conference call, Samuel asked Spencer if it would be all right if the family came out, rented a car, and booked a place to stay nearby.

“Dad said, ‘No. I’d be offended if you don’t stay with me. You let me pick you up.’ I didn’t really know him. I worried it might feel uncomfortable. Krisann and I looked at each other. We’d leave it up to God.”

While Krisann and Samuel felt the reunion would be well met, friends and co-workers warned them that things might turn sour. But the couple felt they were on the right track.

“Things were lining up,” Krisann said. “I started looking for tickets, which were expensive. We were lucky. I booked the tickets two weeks before we left. We just found Spencer on the 8th. We got tickets at $900 per person round trip. We took it.”

Meanwhile, Samuel learned he had another half sister, Hollie, who was raised by her mom after Spencer and Hollie’s mom divorced. Hollie had nothing to do with her father after that.

Samuel said this is where his role as peacemaker came in.

“Remember my name? (His middle name is the same as his grandfather Samuel’s) It means peacemaker,” Samuel said. “I’m talking with Heather and say I want to meet Hollie. Heather said Hollie was a tough cookie to crack because she doesn’t want to know Dad. Hollie had a child named Sam 20-some years ago. She didn’t know about me. When Heather told Hollie she had a brother named Samuel who lives in Hawaii, that was the first Hollie heard of me.”

Samuel asked Heather to invite Hollie by to meet him when his family traveled to Georgia.  Later Heather wrote a text.

“Heather said, “Your prayers were answered,’” Samuel said. “’Hollie wants to meet you.’ She wants to come up and meet me! I started crying. I’m like a little kid. I’m so excited to go. We left Hawaii Nov. 28. We had a flight delay going from Kona to Oahu. We had to run for our flight. We worried about our baggage. All of the stuff made it except one bag with the gifts for the family.”

After landing, Krisann suggested Samuel freshen up in the airport restroom. She called Spencer to let him know they’d arrived. Arden was ready to video the reunion. The family left the terminal looking for an off-white SUV. It was getting dark out.

Samuel greeted his dad with leis, saying, “I missed you.” They wrapped their arms around one another for a long while. Contrary to his friends’ warnings, Samuel felt connected to his dad right away.

Spencer Dean, left, greets his son Samuel after a 50-year absence

“From the time we got into his house to the day we left, it was as if 50 years never happened,” Samuel said. “We were two peas in a pod. He made us bouillabaisse, and I treated him to Kona coffee.”

Samuel described his dad as a laid back, ex-biker dude, and retired army drill sergeant. Spencer has a long-time girlfriend, “We called  her ‘Nana,'” Krisann said. During their stay in Myrtle Beach, Samuel asked Spencer to take the family to where Spencer was raised in Knightdale NC, 3 1/2 hours’ drive away. They visited Samuel’s paternal grandparents’ grave, where he laid leis, ti leaves and kukui nuts, and sang a Hawaiian song.

They visited Spencer’s childhood home, which is still lived in. The address of the house is 429, like Krisann and Samuel’s wedding anniversary.

The home’s people invited Spencer and his family inside. The original wood floor was admired. Spencer is videoed recalling where his family’s furniture was once located.

“My dad was so proud to have me there,” Samuel said. “He’d gotten to know me and was so happy. We met my Uncle Don, the oldest of Dad’s brothers. All his brothers had only girls. I’m the only boy. We have Arden, who will carry on the family name.”

“No pressure, Arden,” Krisann teased her son.

Samuel said Uncle Don flirted with Krisann nonstop while they visited.

Krisann Santiago-Dean makes quite an entrance as she visits her former family home, now an Airbnb rental that we stayed in. You can see why Uncle Don flirted with her. Photo by Kate Poss

“He fell in love with me. He’s so cute,” said Krisann.

Spencer gifted his newfound family with engraved money clip watches for his son and grandson, and a necklace of a South Carolina tree for Krisann.

Samuel receives a gift from his dad Spencer Dean

He went to a room filled with display cases of his eagle collections, and gave one to Samuel, telling him, “I want you to take this, and it will protect you.”

Arden looks on while his dad Samuel Dean tells the story about an eagle sculpture his dad gave him. Photo by Bill Poss

One more tale from the trip: Spencer and his lifelong buddy Jay were bikers who traveled the 48 states together. Spencer earned the nickname, Cantankerous Old Bastard, which identifies Spencer to Jay on the phone. Samuel and his family met up with Jay at a local bar.

“Jay is a character,” Samuel added. “I told him I wanted to know all about Dad. Jay gave us the unfiltered version. We laughed. Jay told the story about Dad once working on a golf course. A kid ran over a sprinkler head. My dad had to fix it. The kid called him a cantankerous old bastard when Dad yelled at him, and the name stuck. When we left Dad, that’s what Krisann started calling me. Our new word is cantankerous.”

Now Samuel calls his dad and they talk every Sunday. Plans are being made to have Spencer and Nana visit in Kappa’au.

“Nothing’s more important than family,” Samuel said, as he and the family walked out from the living room onto the deck and we hugged and said our goodbyes.

Arden Dean, 27, with his parents Krisann Santiago-Dean, and Samuel Dean. Photo by Kate Poss

Ha’ina ‘Ia Mai Ana Ka’Puana—Hawaiian for “And so the story is told.”

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