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Jeff Fisher and John Novotny in 1971

Real Name: John Stephen Novotny
Case: Lost Friend
Location: Elkhart, Indiana
Date: 1971

Case[]

Details: In 1969, when Jeff Fisher was five-years-old, his parents divorced and his father left home, forcing Jeff’s mother, Linda, to raise him and his sister alone. Jeff often missed having his father around because the two were very close. He always asked Linda where he was, and she told him that he was away and she did not know when he would be back. He wondered if he had done something wrong that led his father to leave. He was a very sensitive, shy boy, so things like that bothered him a lot. One day, Linda took him to get his haircut. However, he became upset and did not want to go in with her, because all of the other boys were there with their fathers. He eventually went in with her, but always felt that something was different about him since his father was not around.
Two years after his father left, Jeff met a man who profoundly changed his life, a man he has not seen or heard from in more than twenty years. Jeff is one of the thousands of boys whose lives have been enriched by "Big Brothers of America", an organization that provides young boys with strong adult male role models.
In 1971, Big Brothers of America opened a chapter in Jeff’s hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. He was their first “little brother”. His “big brother” was thirty-one-year-old John Novotny, a local salesman and father of a two-year-old daughter. Jeff remembered that John was a big guy, over 6’, with jet black hair; he was a “solidly built” and very commanding-type guy. He was also very easy to get along with.
Over the next ten months, Jeff and John spent many weekends together. John gave him the companionship that he needed at that time. He took Jeff out to do things that Linda was either unable to afford to do or unable to take the time out to do, since she was working so much. Jeff was happy to have an adult man in his life that wanted to spend time with him; it made him feel very good about himself. On one weekend, he took him camping, teaching him how to set up a tent, build a fire, and fish.
After Jeff and John began spending time together, Linda noticed that Jeff had a lot more confidence in himself. He was very proud of the fact that he had a “big brother”. He would often tell the other kids about the things that he and John would do together. He was proud that he had a man in his life that was “just his” and was there for him.
A year-and-a-half after they met, John’s company transferred him to another state. He and Jeff were no longer able to spend time together, but they did stay in touch. In September 1972, Jeff underwent open heart surgery to correct a congenital defect. It was a terrifying experience, but a phone call from John, who himself suffered heart problems, helped to ease Jeff’s fears. It helped him to see that John could deal with his heart problems and remain healthy. It made him realize that his heart condition would not be “the end of the world”. Linda felt that the call was a big help to Jeff.
Jeff never heard from John again, but feels that his support and understanding were a key to his complete recovery. Jeff went on to graduate from high school. At twenty-six, he now works in the construction field and has a family of his own. He says that John introduced him to a world that he had never seen before, that was really beautiful and different from what he was used to. He feels that he made a lasting impression on him, since he still thinks about him decades later. He hopes to see John again so that he can thank him.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the October 23, 1991 episode; it was updated on the November 11, 1991 episode.

John and Jeff reunited

Results: Solved. Thanks to tips from several viewers, Jeff’s search for his “Big Brother” ended the night of the broadcast. John was stunned and had no idea that Jeff was looking for him. As the show aired, people from Elkhart and from Michigan started calling him, telling him that he was on television and that Jeff was looking for him. He got dozens of calls that night and the next day about it. Later that night, the two spoke on the phone for the first time in twenty years. Nine days later, Jeff and Linda traveled to John’s home in Tacoma, Washington, for an emotional reunion with him and his family.
Jeff had been waiting for eighteen years to thank John, and was willing to do anything to be able to do that. When he started being a “big brother”, John wondered if he had enough time to “do it right”. He was glad to find out, twenty years later, that he really did make a difference in Jeff’s life. They remained in contact until John's passing in 2014.
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