Sister lost for 35 years locates brother at Labor Exchange

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    Dale Pritchard, who obtains work through the Malibu Labor Exchange, was contacted by a sister he had not seen for 35 years.

    Dale Pritchard has been a regular worker at Malibu’s Labor Exchange since the spring of 2000. However, few are aware of his really colorful skills-that of charter sailboat captain, stunt motorcyclist and professional sword swallower. These days he gets calls for his painting and construction skills.

    However, on March 14, the phone rang for Pritchard and it had nothing to do with work.

    The Labor Exchange director, Oscar Mondragon, called out the trailer door, “Dale, it’s your sister.”

    Dale was not sure that getting a call from his sister from Sarasota was such a good thing. The last time he saw his family was a few years back in Florida at the funeral of his closest brother, Dusty, whose charter boat they owned together was hijacked by sea pirates off the coast of Caracas.

    Meanwhile, the woman on the line was not his sister, Lorna, from Sarasota.

    “Is this Dale Warren Pritchard … son of James Warren Pritchard?” the woman on the phone asked.

    “Who the hell are you?” asked Pritchard.

    “It’s me, Tricia … Latricia, your baby sister. I’ve been looking for you for 20 years.”

    “I about lost my balance when it really hit me … my baby sister. I haven’t seen her for at least 30 years,” Pritchard said, recalling that March day. “I had to grab hold of the desk. I was in shock.”

    Indeed, Latricia, now 40, had been adopted when she was under five. What she knew of her family was what she could never forget-she had lived with a mother and father, and a noisy bunch of hunky, loving, scrappy brothers and sisters on a farm in Modesto. And one day in 1965, they were gone.

    In 1965, both parents, James Warren Pritchard and Mary Margaret Johnson, were killed in an automobile accident. The seven Pritchard children, aged two-18, became wards of the state. The six older children went to three different foster families. After nine months they were allowed to live with their elderly grandmother. But Tricia, who was of a “tender age,” was considered adoptable, and was soon embraced by a lucky Modesto family. Then her records were sealed.

    Once adopted, she lost all contact with her brothers and sisters. She never knew that Dale had children of his own, did “‘Nam,” came home, got divorced, ran away with a carnival, became a helicopter stunt pilot, sword swallower and motorcycle stunt man.

    Probably the hardest brother to track down, Dale was the one Tricia remembered best and eventually found by doing an Internet search. What she found made her heart thump. Dale Warren Pritchard was listed, and had an address. She then wrote a note and dropped it in the mail. The note said, “Dale, I’m writing this in hope this will reach you. I’ve been trying to find you for the last 20 years. Hopefully, I finally have. If this reaches you, please respond by mail or phone. I just need to know you’re okay. Luv and Miss Ya, Your Baby Sister Trish.”

    The next day she made the phone call to Malibu, and Dale was asking, “Who the hell are you?”

    Latricia Pritchard Lawrence still lives in Modesto. She just celebrated her 40th birthday, has a husband and five children, aged 20 months to 22 years. She is the seventh daughter of James Warren Pritchard and Mary Margaret Johnson, English immigrants who arrived in America in 1950, just in time to give birth to their third child, a happy, adventurous son named Dale.

    As part of their American dream, they worked the land in Modesto, raising seven children by growing various crops including alfalfa, wine grapes, almonds and peaches. Years later, Dale would share with Mondragon, who spent many years with United Farm Workers working closely with founder Cesar Chavez, that Chavez had stayed at their home several times while he was growing up.

    In fact, the Labor Exchange, since it opened almost 10 years ago, has been the convergence point for the lives of thousands of workers from all over the world. The Exchange does not guarantee a job or even a future, but to many it symbolizes a chance. One third of the workers who come each day are lucky enough to get a day job. And for a lucky few, a door opens to regular work. Dale and other Vietnam veterans have found they can subsist on jobs they get through the Exchange, but cannot afford homes and must live at campsites.

    Dale Pritchard is now saving money that he earns through jobs obtained by way of the Labor Exchange so that he may visit his sister in Modesto.

    In October, the Labor Exchange will host a Tenth Anniversary Celebration Fundraiser.

    For more information on the Exchange, call Mondragon at 317.4717. The office is located at 23595 Civic Center Way and is open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Saturday.