CASA GRANDE -- When her home telephone rang at 7:30 one morning a few weeks ago, Susan Wortman considered just letting it ring.
But she decided to answer the call, and the resulting conversation changed her life. On the other end was a distant cousin of her husband’s. He was calling from Israel and had been searching for Susan and Randy Wortman for years.
“I didn’t even know these cousins existed,” Susan said.
The Israeli branch of the family found its American cousin through an article about Randy and Susan that ran in the Casa Grande Dispatch and on PinalCentral in July.
“If not for the article, I don’t think they would have found me,” Wortman said.
Randy Wortman died about three months ago, but connecting with his European cousins has led Susan to learn stories about the family she never knew and those stories will be passed on to her daughter and grandchildren.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know these family members,” Wortman said. “I’m learning stuff about Randy’s family that I never knew. There are so many pieces of the puzzle out there, and we’re starting to connect the pieces.”
Through the newly found family members, Susan said she learned that Randy’s parents, Sylvia and Sol Wortman, helped the Israeli branch of the family during World War II.
“Sol Wortman came to the United States in the 1920s, but most of his family stayed behind in Poland,” Wortman said. “Some went to Israel.”
Those who remained in Poland died during the Holocaust, Wortman said, but some made it to Israel.
Throughout the war, Sol and Sylvia Wortman sent food, clothing and money to the family in Palestine, which helped them survive.
In the years after the war, Sylvia Wortman wrote letters to the family and often mentioned her son Randy in the letters.
“The woman in Israel Sylvia was writing to, Sarah, learned to read and write English by reading Sylvia’s letters,” Wortman said. “It was her son (Mo Wortman) who wanted to find Randy.”
Later, the American Wortmans helped some of the Israeli Wortmans immigrate to the United States.
“Sol and Sylvia were very humble and didn’t talk about what they had done for other members of the family,” Susan said. “But Sol and Sylvia were very important to the family members who they’d helped. They kept a photo of Sol and Sylvia on their wall. But over the years, they lost contact.”
Through an internet search, one cousin discovered a July article in the Casa Grande Dispatch about Randy and Susan writing a book.
Susan and Randy spent decades working in education in Casa Grande and Chicago.
Randy was suffering from Parkinson’s disease at the time, and the couple was working to preserve the stories about their careers and family.
Randy was a physics teacher and school administrator in Chicago and later became the first principal at Casa Grande Union High School after the new campus on Trekell Road opened in 1997. He was also a principal at the district’s Desert Winds campus.
After the initial early morning phone call, the family held a mini family reunion via Zoom.
“We ended up having a Zoom call with 11 people in three countries,” Wortman said. “Five cousins live in Israel, one in London, England, one in Rochester, New York, and the rest of us live in Arizona, California, Washington and Illinois.”
Susan’s oldest grandson, now 17, plans to visit Israel next year and hopes to meet the cousins in person.
Susan also hopes to travel to Israel to meet them.
The Israeli cousins are working to create a family tree for the next generation of Wortmans.
“It gets bigger each day,” Wortman said.