NKY philanthropist and local leader learn they are father and son

Patricia A. Scheyer
Patricia A. Scheyer
Patricia is a contributor to LINK nky.

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Editor’s note: This story is written by LINK nky contributor Patricia A. Scheyer, who was once married to Bill Scheyer, a main subject in this story. Typically such a close connection would prohibit one of our journalists from writing on the topic, but given the nature of the article pertaining to family connections, we permitted it and are disclosing the connection here.

Oakley Farris is one of Northern Kentucky’s most prolific philanthropists, generously contributing funds to educational, cultural, and civic initiatives across the region where a number of rooms, landmarks, and programs bear his and his wife’s name.

Bill Scheyer retired in 2016 as the head of Skyward (formerly known as Vision 2015, and now reorganized as OneNKY Alliance) and previously served as president of Southbank Partners after two decades as Erlanger city administrator.

With both Farris and Scheyer holding roles of prominence in Northern Kentucky, their paths had crossed over the years.

But neither man knew how close they really were.

Earlier this year, Farris, 98, and Scheyer, 73, learned that they are father and son, a mystery revealed through Scheyer’s son’s curiosity and the genealogical and DNA testing service, 23andMe.

Some in the community saw the two in public together for first time when Scheyer sat next to Farris at Eva Farris’s recent funeral service at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, following her death at the age of 103.

Though their 72-year marriage produced generosity for many children in Northern Kentucky, the Farrises never had children of their own.

Scheyer was born of a previous, very brief relationship between Farris and Scheyer’s mother in 1948. The one-time romantic encounter was the only time Scheyer’s biological parents ever saw each other.

“The whole thing is funny when you think about it,” Scheyer said. “It’s an odd story, but interesting.”

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It started this year, when Scheyer and his son, John, received a notice on his 23andMe genetic profile that he had another relative — probably another first cousin. The website allows users the option to have their potential genetic connections listed publicly.

“I had always been interested in genealogy and had worked on a family tree for both my mom’s and my dad’s side,” John Scheyer explained. “When the notice popped up, it gave the initials ‘O.F.’, and I thought it was probably my niece, Olivia Farmer, since her sister (Emmaline) had already been listed on my profile.

“But when I texted (Olivia), she said she had done the 23andMe a few years ago but hadn’t made it public.”

So, who was O.F.? The DNA results showed O.F. shared 16.4% of John Scheyer’s DNA, which 23andMe says falls into the range of a niece or nephew of John, or an aunt or uncle. John Scheyer also noticed a 24.2% match with his niece Emmaline Farmer, and he knew he should have about the same match with her sister, Olivia. The 16.4% match, though, could also apply to a grandparent.

About a month later, Bill and John Scheyer were having lunch.

“Dad said he had some interesting news, and of course, I was listening,” he said. “Then he told me I might still have a living grandfather. I was so surprised because when I was little, I was always thinking it would be neat if I had a long-lost uncle or some relative that I didn’t know about. So now I was living out that thought!”

Turns out, the Scheyers weren’t the only ones investigating their DNA.

Oakley Farris was curious about his Scottish and Irish heritage and wanted to confirm that it was genetically accurate. A friend helped him navigate 23andMe and when the results came back, Farris opted to make his information public.

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The site revealed a link between Farris, John Scheyer, and Emmaline Farmer.

He wondered how it was possible, until one morning, it all came back to him.

In late summer 1948, Farris attended a regular service at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Covington where he met Elnora Allen. They hit it off in an instant and went for a walk together — one that led back to Elnora’s apartment.

They spent the afternoon together and Bill Scheyer was conceived.

Elnora told Oakley that she was seeing a man, a taxi driver from Cincinnati named Charles Scheyer, so she and Oakley parted and never heard from each other again.

Oakley was born in Gray, Kentucky, and served in World War II, despite having been told he had a heart condition and shouldn’t be in the service. Oakley said when he wanted something badly enough, he usually got it, so he talked himself into the Army, and went to war.

When he returned, he sold notions, mainly thread, all over the United States, as a traveling salesman. A ladies’ man, Oakley made friends wherever he went.

When he met his would-be wife, Eva, in Miami, all his wandering was over. They married in 1950 and lived together in Covington.

In talking about the strange DNA connections, a friend of Farris, Mike Hammons, suggested that the Scheyer name is uncommon around Northern Kentucky and it was possible that Bill Scheyer could be Farris’s son.

Hammons contacted Scheyer and said that Farris wanted to meet him.

“Once I saw the DNA profile, it was crystal clear what the deal was, that I am Oakley’s son,” Bill said. “I wasn’t shocked or anything, and it really didn’t surprise me, once Oakley told me the story. My mom was a free spirit, a strong lady who made her own decisions. I guess you could say it was the classic traveling salesman story.”

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Early in the reunion of long-lost relatives, Oakley Farris takes a picture with his newly found son and grandson. Left to right, John Scheyer, Oakley Farris, and Bill Scheyer. Photo provided. | Courtesy of John Scheyer.

“I was shocked, and it still hasn’t truly sunk in,” Farris said. “I had been thinking that maybe it was my dad, the ladies always loved him. Or maybe it was my brother, the ladies always loved him, too. But then I woke up one day and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness gracious, it’s me!'”

As an added measure, both Scheyer and Oakley had their DNA tested and it confirmed that they are father and son.

The two have become friends and talk to each other regularly. Scheyer’s mother and the man he knew as his father both died years ago.

Farris is adjusting well to having a new member of the family, though he sometimes refers to them as, “you people.” Often, though, he says, “Hello, family!”

Some of the Scheyer grandchildren have met their great-grandfather and the desire is there for everyone in the family to meet Farris.

“I am perfectly happy with the way my life has been,” Scheyer said. “I enjoy getting to know Oakley. He is a funny guy, an interesting guy with a lot of stories to tell. I like to hear about who he is.”

Farris said he sees the hand of God in his life, steering him in directions where he was protected and taken care of.

He said Eva helped him so much that he said he knows he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her. He said he knows now that he still has family, even though Eva has passed on.

He patted his chest and said he has a good feeling of peace inside.

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