Vernon gives Richard Bearden’s backstory

For several years in the mid to late 1950s my father Keith Black and my uncle Gary Black had a foster brother named Richard Bearden. You may remember him from the post I did on my family’s visit to the opening day of Disneyland in July 1955. Where he came from before joining our family and where he went to after leaving our family have been a mystery to me. My grandparents never spoke of Richard to me other than saying “oh, yeah, that was Richard Bearden” when I asked who the mystery boy in the photo was. Keith and Gary had little to say about Richard. The unanswered questions have bothered me ever since I learned about the existence of this foster uncle (?) of mine.

Who was Richard Bearden? Who was his birth family? How did he come to be a foster child in our family? What was he like? Where did he go? Why does no one talk about him?

I recently found a letter from Vernon Black to his mother and stepfather Catalina and Frank Black, dated February 13, 1955, that answers many of these questions. Vernon realized that his parents would have just the same sorts of questions I have had. Understandable questions, I think, when a new family member suddenly appears. For today’s post I’d like to share that letter with you.

Van Nuys, Calif

13 Feb ’55

Dear Mother & Dad:

This is Monday morning after a busy week-end at the store. It was my helps day off so Dorothy worked part of the day to give me a break. I have a very good man at the store. He’s 23, single and a good worker. We both put in quite a few hours as we are open 9 in the morning until 11 at night seven days a week. He works the late shift most of the time so I have my evenings most of the time. Keith helps stock at the store after school as well as Richard the boy we have living wi[th] us.

I don’t believe we have told you about Richard, his last name is Bearden. He is 14 now and has been living with us for 1½ years. He is from a family of 4 or 5 children all older than he and all married. His father deserted them when he was a baby and his mother has now been in and out of the hospital for about 4 years. She had worked for Johns-Manville where they processed the raw material and as a result of breathing the dust from this for several years she contracted a bad lung condition. She actually has holes in her lungs and has to have oxygen treatments several times a week and she does a lot of coughing. She is presently at Santa Barbara General Hospital. The reason I say presently is that she has been to several different hospitals and gets to feeling pretty good then trys staying out with the Hospitals O.K. but in a couple weeks or so she feels so bad that she goes back and its usually to a different one. She has now been in this one for about a year and is more or less resolved to the fact that its best for her… She naturally gets very downcast because of her condition. We got to know her and Richard in Lompoc when I was with the Camp Cooke Post Exchange for about a year before we moved to Van Nuys. At that time she was still working for Johns-Manville.

Beings housing was so scarce we lived in the same trailer park and Keith & Richard got acquainted. I might mention that Mansville pays all her medical & hospital expenses as well as $30 a week for pension as long as she lives.

Well anyway about a year and a half ago when she was out for a short time she looked us up and told us of her problem with Richard, how he had been first with one brother then another, then with her and so on. The boy didn’t have a home and it worried her and wanted to know if he could stay with us until she was able to be out for good.

We felt sorry for them so we have tried to give him a home. Now when he was a baby of several months he had polio and for a long time he could only get around on crutches with braces on his legs—on his right leg as his right side was affected—mostly in his leg. Well as time has gone on he has had several operations financed by the Orthopedic foundation.

His last operation was just before Christmas last year. He hasn’t had to wear braces or crutches for the last 3 years or so and now as a result of his last operation, at which time they put a stop growth in his good leg, they say by the time he is 18, his bad leg will catch up in growth to his good leg as this stop growth is slowing it down—anyway his legs should be about the same length and he will not have too noticable a limp. Thats the only thing you notice now is he has a bad limp one leg being shorter than the other.

Another thing to add to all this is that just before he was scheduled to go to the hospital, that is one week before, he was riding his bicycle home from school and he and another boy side-swiped Richard fell off and broke his bad leg.

As a result of this they put off the operation on his good leg for a couple of weeks, but by breaking his bad leg they were able to straighten it up more. So you can imagine him in the hospital, one leg in a cast and splints on the other. The same hospital took care of everything with no charge to us as this was the final operation of a series which had been arranged for over a period of years by the Foundation which does this for underprivileged and poorer families unable to pay. I think it is wonderful what they can do.

I have gone into this so as to not leave too many questions in your mind about things. Of course all this time Dorothy has had to tutor him in his school work and with his being behind it has really been a strain on her. Anyway we hope we have helped to give him a better home. After having talked with Mrs. Beardens doctors we find that she will probably have to remain in the hospital the rest of her normal days. We take Richard up to see her once or twice a month. She gets to walk around the grounds with him and visit as she is not confined to a bed or anything like that.

I believe Dorothy and Keith are going to write a letter also, altogether your getting quite a book from us.

We know we should write more often but we are really kept on the go. I work with a local Boy Scout troop quite a bit, in fact last week-end I accompanied them to the mountains about 80 miles away for a week-end in the snow. It was their annual snow camp. We put up our tents in the snow and did our cooking in the open. Nothing soft about us. ha!

We saw to it that the boys were dressed and equipped for it. I was the only man besides the Scoutmaster. I believe Keith is sending along the program from the Central Lutheran Church where they had Scout Sunday yesterday and honored the troop. As you’ll notice Keith is Senior patrol leader for his troop and is a Star Scout which is as high a rank as any of the boys are at the present time. We are hoping he will be an Eagle Scout in another year. Richard is a first-class scout and beings he is 14 is in the Explorer group.

Well I believe I had better slow up and go to the store and get to work. Just a few other things first.

We tried to call you on Christmas as I said we would but there was a 6 hour waiting period which would have made it midnight or later there for you. We’ll still do it one of these days so don’t be too surprised when it happens.

Also I want to thank you very much for the clock. Would you write and give me a little of its history. I know its been with the family a long time. I haven’t gotten it to run as yet, is there something I’m not doing right or does it just need leveling up.

Another thing we’re in the process of buying a house close to us here. Its about 12 years old but has a lot of possibilities. Anyway its in escrow and we will have it in a few weeks if the owner can give us a clear title to it.

Write and give us any news and tell us how things are at home. We hope this finds you well.

We are all well, Gary had the mumps this summer and thats about it. He is really a good boy and also good in school, second grade now.

I’ll close for now and wait to hear from both of you. You write to Dad!

With love


Dear Grandmother + father:

I am sorry I did not write sooner. I am a star scout now, I have six merit badges, I was patrol leader, but now I am senior patrol leader of Troop #27. Richard is an explore within the troop. I am working down at our store for $.65 an hour. I am in a school club called Teen Toppers which just had a dance called Queen of Hearts Ball. The Westminster Fellowship of our church had another dance called Hearts and Flowers Hop. I hope all of you are feeling good.

With Love

Keith Black

Dear Mother + Dad Black,

There isn’t much left for me to write about after the “book” Vernon wrote but I do want to thank you for the nice Christmas gifts—I do so enjoy the candy dish and the apron and Gary has a lot of fun looking through his binoculars. Thank you so much.

Keith and Gary are both growing so fast–Keith is already taller than I am and Gary comes up to under my arms—Keith takes men’s size clothes and shoes now—it hardly seems possible he is so big now. He is in the A8 at school and Gary is in A2. Both do real good in school too.

We got the boys a dog the other day and are they ever happy with it!!

I do hope you folks are feeling fine—we all are O.K. We hear you are having some mighty cold weather this year—Keith and Gary think Kansas is wonderful to have so much snow!!!

Well, I’d best get this mailed so will close with love,


Here are a few photos of Richard from his time with our family:

From left: Vernon C. Black, Richard Bearden, Keith Black, and Gary Black. Taken aboard an unknown boat, probably in late 1954 or early 1955.
Richard Bearden (left), Jude Laspa (rear center), Keith Black (right), Gary Black (center), and Tevis Laspa (bottom center), taken probably in early or mid 1955.
Richard Bearden at the public opening day of Disneyland, July 18, 1955.
Dorothy Black, Richard Bearden, and Keith Black at a motel in Palm Springs, 1956.

If you have anything to add to this story or have more information about Richard Bearden or his birth family, please leave a comment below.

3 thoughts on “Vernon gives Richard Bearden’s backstory

  1. This is interesting Michael. You’d have thought I’d ha e known or known about Richard as it was 1955ish. I too would have been 14-15 yrs old. I have no recollection whatsoever. All my old family photos are in storage and I am unable access them at this time. It will be interesting to see if i can turn up any photos with an unknown boy in them. Can you email me a photo of him? Maybe it would jog my OLD memory.

    • Hi Linda,

      Absolutely, and great idea. I’ll send you a few of the better shots I have of Richard momentarily and will also add them to the end of this post so others can see them too.


  2. Hello, I am a Bearden and happened across your blog. Great writing, btw! I am curiously interested in this 14 yo Richard Bearden of 1955! If and When I learn more from my research, I will follow up with you. Please feel free to contact me directly via my unpublished contact info from this comment.
    Many regards and best wishes! EA(Bearden)S

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