Hamilton High School senior Annagail McGuire technically didn’t exist before 2012.

Oh, the people of Hamilton saw her, knew of her existence, worried for her safety, but no one knew anything about her life or how to help her.

Born in her parents’ home at 505 E. Main in Hamilton on Feb. 11, 2001, Annagail never had a birth certificate – an identity – until she was 12 years old.

“I had to get a birth certificate and Social Security number to have a life,” she said.

Today she is a seemingly well-adjusted teenager who has been accepted into the honors college at University of North Texas. She wants to pursue a degree in theater and maybe vocal jazz. But it never would have happened if she hadn’t been a brat.

“We met Annagail when her dad was working part time at Storms and she would come with him,” said George Whitaker, who with wife Susan are now Annagail’s guardians. It hasn’t been an easy journey.

“Susan got to talking to her and discovered she was brilliant and shared our curiosity about any and everything. Susan had to rebuke her on several occasions because Annagail had no social skills at all and was, to put it frankly, a real brat. She was not very pleasant to be around.

“Susan began to get a little courtesy from her by telling her to go away and not talking to her when she was being rude,” George said. “In time, with us at least, she started becoming something other than a wild animal.

“She was then allowed to come over to our house where Susan would teach her some general things about art and music. We still had problems with her rudeness and language, but we could see real potential being completely wasted.”

“I don’t remember a lot about the time before,” Annagail said. “I bounced around a lot. I was with my mom and dad until I was 2, then my mom left. At 3, I went to live with my grandparents. They took me ’til I was 8, then they got arrested, and they gave me back to my dad.

 “I lived with my dad until I was 12,” she said. “We moved around a lot. He couldn’t keep a job to pay the rent. That year I moved in with my grandparents and then in October I spent a month with dad. He realized he couldn’t take care of me.

“I had known Susan since I was 8 when dad worked at Storms. I went too because I was not in school. I was good friends with Susan, and at 12 ½, I moved in with them.”

That’s the story Annagail remembers, but the Whitakers recall that Child Protective Services was going to put the girl in foster care. Her father called them and told them that she would be gone in 24 hours.

“We did not want to take her at our ages,” George said. “Our baby is 36 now, and we did not need a child in the house.

“However, we realized that Annagail would be sent to who knows where and made to live with people who were being paid to keep her. We both agreed we did not want to do it, but couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t.

“She was very much like a wild animal at the start,” he said. “The poor child had lived her first 12 years in poverty and constant fear. She was preyed upon and abused by family members to the point that, at 12, she suffered from gastric disturbances and other illnesses brought on by stress.

“All I had to do was walk into the room and her face would show fear. It took the better part of a year before she realized she was no longer in danger, and the illnesses went away.

“And, at the same time, she was beginning to learn some social graces and manners. There was considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth for the first two years, but now, the difference is like daylight and dark. She has made herself into a real lady.”

“I've known Annagail since she was small child,” said Mike Kolodziej, owner of Storms. “I didn’t know her mother, but I know her father. I have worked with her aunt, Elie, and her uncle, Nazar.

“I was impressed with her acting abilities in the play I saw, and I think a lot of George and Susan Whitaker.”

Before moving in with the Whitakers, Annagail had never had anything new, so George and Susan took her to department stores for new clothes. She had never had new shoes, but now she has a closet full. She also has a computer, printer and a bicycle.

Just before she turned 13, Susan gave Annagail the option of going to school or being home schooled, and Annagail decided she wanted to go to school. But she didn’t exist, technically.

“We had to get statements from people who knew when she was born,” George said. Her aunt Elie Hutcheson, who also works at Storms, assisted and was able to swear to the date and circumstances of her birth.

“We presented our evidence to Judge (Randy) Mills, who knew the whole story already, and he issued a court order to the state bureau of vital statistics and got her a birth certificate. He was a real help in getting her started on the road to a normal life.

“(Her father) was setting Annagail up for a terrible future,” George said. “Since she had no birth certificate and no social security card, prostitution would be the only way she could earn money. She would not have been able to get a job, get a driver’s license, have a bank account, lease an apartment or anything.

“She also had received no immunizations and was, therefore, susceptible to all of the childhood diseases. As soon as we got her we took her to Dr. (Robbye) Lengefeld and got a complete physical. Then we started her immunizations.”

The birth certificate was easy compared to getting Annagail a social security card.

“They were convinced there was some kind of fraud going on,” George said. Again, Mills was able to help by calling the state congressman’s office, who called Social Security, and soon enough, Annagail had a card.

“We got Annagail in mid-December, and we got all the necessary items taken care of the week school started,” George said. “We got her social security card on the Thursday before school was to start on Monday.”

 “I look at that part as not really me,” Annagail said. “It is different from who I am now. My life is in chunks, and this is the most important part.

“Once I got parents, a home, people to care about me and take care of me, I discarded that old part of my life. It’s not who I want to be. I get to decide.

“It wasn’t like snap your fingers,” she said. “It was a lot of work, a lot to overcome parts of my past, but I’ve become a better person and will not be hindered by the past. It’s not been easy, but life isn’t easy.”

Starting school was something Annagail was anxious and excited about.

“I kept thinking that it wasn’t going to work,” she said, “but it did.

“The first day of school, I was an outsider. No one knew me. I came out of nowhere. But I got to know people and found my circle, which became my whole community.”

The Whitakers wanted to share their love of culture with Annagail so they took her to plays, like Hamilton Civic Theatre’s summer musical “Peter Pan.”

“It was the first show I’d ever seen,” she said. “I loved it! It was so cool and amazing. I wanted to see more.”

The next summer, Annagail auditioned and was cast as a frog in HCT’s “The Jungle Book.”

“I was taller than the other frogs,” she said. “We rehearsed all summer and it was hot, but I made more friends, most of them smaller than me, like Johanna Jeschke, who I’ve enjoyed watching grow up.”

Annagail also was in “Alice in Wonderland” the next year, and was Bruno the dog in “Shipwrecked” with Mark Harelik. Many said she stole she show with her canine portrayal.

“That was a huge honor,” Annagail said. “I know an actor who lives in Los Angeles! He dropped me a note. It was so cool. I had so much fun, and he is a nice guy. It was an amazing experience.”

The next summer, Annagail was Charlotte in “Charlotte’s Web,” and this year she was in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Besides the children’s musicals, Annagail also has been in HCT and HHS productions, like “You Can’t Take It with You” and “My Three Angels.”

“I’ve grown a lot in four years,” she said. “A lot has happened in my life, and now I get to decide what to do after.”

At first, she wanted to be a forensic scientist, but the acting bug kept coming back to mind. It’s what she loves.

“Acting is so much fun! You can be anyone, and the feeling when you hear applause. It’s the best feeling in the world to think people appreciate the hard work you put into doing this thing.

“I want to be a person who affects people, and art affected me as a kid,” she said. “I want to let people know it’s a good life, and you can make it, no matter where you came from. It’s powerful and speaks to me, and I want to be the person to inspire others that they can have a great life and do whatever they want.”

Annagail applied as soon as she could to UNT, and a month later, she was accepted to the theater program.

“It was crazy!” she said. “Then I applied for honors college in October, and I got in!”

Now she faces the process of applying for scholarships and grants. She was recently notified that she is a semi-finalist for a $25,000 Horatio Alger national scholarship. She has gotten her first job – at Studio on the Square – and volunteers at Hamilton Public Library, which is the only thing that ties her past life to her present life.

“The library has always been a huge part of my life,” she said. “There were books! Internet! Movies! I spent a lot of time there growing up.”

She made her first B of her high school career last year – in physics – and admits that senioritis has set in, especially as she prepares for her last semester of high school. Still, she makes “mostly A’s” and has set an outstanding foundation for college by taking dual credit classes for the past three years.

“I could not be more proud of Annagail,” George said. “She is truly a different person from the one we got four years ago.

“We still have the usual teenager problems, but no worse than anyone else. Susan still has to call her down on her makeup and some of the things she wants to wear, but all parents have to deal with setting limits.”

George compares Annagail’s transformation to Liza Doolittle, but unlike Professor Higgins, he said, Annagail has put an enormous amount of time and effort into making a life.

“We provided the support, and she has taken full advantage of it,” he said. “Every time we opened a door for her, she put in the effort to make the best of the opportunity.”

Annagail is excited about moving to the city to go to college, but knows she always has a family in Hamilton.

“There’s this place that is home with people that I know,” she said. “I can’t imagine not having this life. Everyone has been good to me, and I’m very grateful. My whole life has been given to me on a silver platter. I’ve been given so much that I can’t begin to thank or repay.

“Without it, I wouldn’t have a future, but now I can be who I am.”



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