Three New York students needed something to sit on, so they went to a charity shop and bought a sofa for their shared apartment in New Paltz. The battered old couch had seen better days and was no beauty, but Reese Werkhoven, Cally Guasti and Lara Russo still thought it was amazing to have some soft seating at last. They were pleased with their find. It had only cost them $55 and the money went to the Salvation Army, so that was a good cause.
The roommates were sitting enjoying their first evening on the lounge, settled in to watch a movie, when Reese Werkhoven, SUNY geology major, noticed that the arm rest was all lumpy and bumpy. Idly, he pulled down the zipper to the cushion and pulled out a fat envelope. Curious, he opened it and peeked inside. The envelope was stuffed with cash in hundred-dollar bills.
Guasti and Russo were as amazed as Werkhoven was to see the hidden stash. All three turned their attention back to the sofa. Come to think of it, they began to realize, it was pretty lumpy and bumpy all over. Section by section, they began to unzip more cushions, and more and more bubble-wrap envelopes appeared from the innards. It was as if the sofa was spewing up dollars. They had quite literally been sitting on a goldmine. Incredulous, the trio began to count the money.
“We just pulled out envelopes after envelopes,” said Guasti. “We laid it all out and started counting.” As they did so, neighbors told them later, their screams were so loud the neighbors assumed the trio had won the lottery. In a way, they had. As Guasti described, “it was an unfathomable amount.” Laid out on a bed was a grand total of $41,000.
This could have been where the story ended, with the impoverished students enjoying a few high end meals, fancy purchases and maybe even a vacation or paying off some of their loans, but not for these three. Although Werkhoven first thought of buying his mom a new car, or getting a boat, they soon saw they faced a moral dilemma. They unanimously decided to track down the person who had donated the sofa to the charity. Finding a deposit slip was their first clue. Werkhoven’s mother joined in the hunt and traced down the name in a phone book.
“We didn’t earn that money” explained Guasti, a Mount Holyoke graduate, and she said that their feelings of entitlement went away “very quickly.” It turned out that an elderly widow, 91 years old, had been having serious health problems. Her family, unwittingly, had given the sofa away when she was in hospital recuperating. When the students eventually found her and gave her the life-savings back, the lady cried in gratitude. Naturally, she had feared she would never see it again, having carefully hidden it away in her sofa for so many years.
The widow’s husband had given her the money before he died, so that she would have something to fall back on should times get tough. She had stored it away in the old couch for over thirty years. After an operation to ease her back pain, her children had elected to get rid of it, fearing it was so old and uncomfortable it would make her back worse again.
The three students and the old lady are now firm friends and plan to have dinner together. “We almost didn’t pick that couch” admitted Russo, adding that is was “ugly” and it “smelled,” but it was the only one that would fit their room. Their kindness in returning their thrift shop treasure has not gone totally unrewarded. The widow has given them $1000 to share. Plus they have the satisfaction of having done the right thing. As for the rest of the money, “I don’t think about it that much” said Russo.
The old saying goes, “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers” and, in the UK, this is in fact true in law. It is entirely up to the individual what they choose to do if they find an unexpected wad of cash. A woman in Lancashire, England, found a bag with $120,000 in it, floating in a waterway last year. She was out walking her dog at the time. She handed it in to the police. However, she need not have done so. It is a matter of conscience. This is different if the items can be traced, as was the case with the sofa and the deposit slip. Truly “antique” money, such as gold coins older than 300 years, technically, in the UK, belong to the crown.
These three US students made an amazing find, but what they did with it was even more amazing: returning the cash to its rightful owner.
By Kate Henderson
Times Herald Online