A handshake with the father of a missing 12-year-old girl changed Dick Jordan's life forever.
"He shook hands with me and said, 'Thanks for being here, Dick.' He said, 'Say a prayer that we find Sara.' At that time, I didn't know where that handshake would lead me. I'm getting chills now just thinking about it," says Jordan, of New Hartford.
Jordan met Bob Wood two days after his daughter, Sara Anne Wood, disappeared while riding her bike on Hacadam Road in Litchfield. Jordan's friend, C. Alan Pylman, was New York State Police Troop D major and deeply involved in the investigation into Sara's disappearance. That handshake would lead Dick Jordan on a nationwide, lifelong trek to raise awareness about missing children, keep children safe and bring missing children home to their families.
"After I retired from my career in the utlity industry, Sara's Ride, which was to become the Ride for Missing Children, really took over my life," Jordan said. "Besides my family and all the things I do with my family, it's been my main focus for the past 20 something years, planning, training, participating in the ride. Meeting parents of missing children."
There's a wall in Jordan's home, covered with mementos from several rides for missing and exploited children. He and others rode around the country on their bicycles, stopping at schools, educating children. He fondly recalls being in the nation's capital on National Missing Children's Day in 1995, when then-Congressman Sherwood Boehlert presented Bob Wood with a signed plaque, thanking him for his work on behalf of missing children.
"Well, she's certainly a presence here in Sauquoit. It was the summer of her 6th grade year, going into 7th grade. There's still some teachers here, they still have the poster up in their room," says current Sauquoit Middle School Principal, Pete Madden.
Madden was a sophomore at SUNY Oswego, preparing to enter junior year, when Sara was taken. He remembers the road blocks, in Washington Mills. The front of the middle school he now oversees and that Sara attended bears a blue ribbon, a symbol for missing children, dedicated on the 20th anniversary of the ride. "You will constatnly see people from the Ride for Missing Children come up on their bikes, drop a flower. It's pretty special."
Sara's brother, Dusty, is now a father, understanding not only the pain of a sibling of a missing child, but the pain of a parent of a missing child. He remains moved by the outpouring of support from strangers when his sister disappeared, and still remembers how they sprang into action 25 years ago, doing anything they could to help find her.
"I remember back then within 24 hours, you had all these people running Xerox machines, pictures and licking stamps and licking envelopes, sending them across the country," says Dusty. "That's just something I was amazed by, that we had people like that in our community."
Twenty five years have not dulled the efforts by many to raise awareness about missing children. The National Center for Missing and Explolted Children branch in Utica has sent out thousands upon thousands of posters of missing children's faces through the years. Sara's ride has become the Ride for Missing and Exploited Children, and continues annually today. Those who started it all have not given up hope of bringing home the little girl who started it all. Forever young, Sara Anne Wood.
"I pray every night when I lay my head down, I pray there's answers. Answers not only for the Wood family, but for all the other families that are suffering, not knowing. Not knowing, what has happened to their child," says Jordan.