2010-07-22 / Local & State

Wallet Returned To Pa. Woman 46 Years Later

By Cindy Stauffer

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) – Kathy Kelley tucked her pocketbook under the desk in her office on the second floor of the Coho Building in downtown Lancaster.

Just out of high school, the 17-year-old graduate of McCaskey in 1964 was working at her first real job – as a secretary and receptionist.

Kelley left her desk on that fall morning to attend to an errand. When she later decided to go out to lunch, she reached under her desk for her pocketbook and the blue madras wallet that was inside of it.

Both were gone.

Fast forward almost 46 years.

The phone rang last week in the home of Kathy Ross in Cornelius, N.C.

“A gentleman said, ‘I have something that belongs to you,’’’ Ross recalled. “He said he had my wallet.’’

The 63-year-old grandmother held the phone in her hand, speechless.

“I was just so, so baffled, or should I say shocked, about all of this,’’ she said.

Yes, she remembered the wallet, or at least the fact that she had once owned it.

It had been stolen all those years ago and while she had not forgotten about it, the incident was tucked back in her mind, along with memories of skating at Rocky Springs, working at the old Sayres, Scheid & Sweeton men’s clothing store in a bustling downtown area and growing up in Lancaster city.

All of that came flooding back due to a bathroom renovation project at a downtown office building.

Herb Marzolf, the owner of Condor Construction, is renovating the second- and third-floor bathrooms at the Coho Building at 53 N. Duke St., across from the Lancaster County Courthouse.

The York County resident recently was tearing out the walls of the secondfloor ladies room as part of the project.

“And I got down to the bottom of where the floor and wall intersects, and that’s where I found the wallet,’’ Marzolf said. “It was just kind of like someone had dropped it in there from somewhere.’’

Marzolf, whose biggest construction job discovery up to this point was an old “Liberty Head’’ nickel he found next to a baseboard once, pulled out the plaid wallet.

Inside the wallet were identification cards with the name of Kathleen Kelley. Using the Internet, Marzolf discovered that Kelley was now Kathy Ross, and had moved 500 miles south.

After finding her and calling her, Marzolf sent the wallet to her.

Ross has lived in Cornelius, which is near Charlotte, for 10 years. She has married, divorced and remarried since her days at the Coho Building. She has two grown children, including a son, James Yeagley, who lives in Lancaster County, and two grandchildren. She also has a brother and sister, Gerald Kelley Jr. and Eileen Leaman, who both live here.

The wallet refocused her attention on a time in her life she had left behind decades ago.

Ross, the daughter of the late Gerald and Betty Kelley, lived with her family in the 600 block of South Lime Street from about the time she was 10 years old.

She took the “commercial program’’ when she got to McCaskey High School, learning secretarial skills. As a teen, she liked to go skating and dancing with her friends.

She recalled skating at Rocky Springs, south of Lancaster. When that closed for the night, sometimes she and her friends would drive to a place in Catonsville, Md., and skate for a few more hours. After they were done, they would travel back to Lancaster, stopping at a diner for breakfast on the way home.

After high school, she got a job working for H.F. Huth Engineering in the Coho Building.

The cards and items tucked into the recesses of her rediscovered wallet captured the life of a teenager who was in the process of becoming a young woman.

“It’s like a time capsule,’’ she marveled.

Inside was a cream-colored membership card to the Willow Street Fire Company, where she attended dances. Her junior driver’s license. A school photo of her little sister, Eileen, who was 12 years old at the time. A Lancaster Free Public Library card, from the time the cards had a metal tab embedded in them.

There also were two pay stubs and a $100 Christmas Club book from the Lancaster County Farmer’s National Bank, which recorded $20 in payments. And a payment book for her first big purchase as a working woman: a $65 Elgin watch from Kay Jewelers.

Tucked in amongst her cards was a crisp $10 bill she had hidden. The wallet also held a bunch of 5-cent stamps.

When her purse was stolen, Ross was shocked, she said. It’s the only time she’s ever been the victim of a theft.

A week after the theft, a strange thing happened. A man knocked on her parents’ door, with her pocketbook. He said he had found it in a trash can in an alley and wanted to return it.

The wallet, of course, was gone.

It ran through her mind that maybe he was the one who had stolen her wallet, but she would never have confronted someone like that, she said. She let it go and went on with her life.

Ross and Marzolf have not been able to solve the mystery of how her wallet ended up between two walls, one floor below her old Coho office.

Marzolf wonders if renovations were going on in the building at the time and the thief tossed the wallet in a hole made by workers. Or he wonders if the thief kicked a hole in the wall and threw the wallet in it.

This story has one more odd angle. Marzolf also worked for Huth, on a surveying crew, about two years after Ross worked there. The two discovered they even knew some of the same workers from the firm.

“When she said she worked for Huth when the wallet was stolen, I said, ‘This is too bizarre for me,’ “ Marzolf said.

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