Lost and found

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Beacon Falls woman’s wallet returned after 70 years

Esther French, 85, looks through her long-lost wallet April 5 at her home in Beacon Falls. French lost the wallet during her junior year at Poquoson High School in Poquoson, Va., 70 years ago. Construction workers found the wallet in February in ductwork during a renovation project. –ANDREAS YILMA

BEACON FALLS — The past has caught up to one Beacon Falls woman in an unexpected, but pleasant way.

When Esther French was a junior at Poquoson High School in Poquoson, Va., 70 years ago, she set her wallet on a ledge in the school’s gymnasium during a basketball practice or gym class. The wallet fell down a hole to the bottom of the building and couldn’t be retrieved.

French, 85, recalled being upset at the time, but said there was nothing officials could do to get the wallet.

As the years passed, French forgot about the wallet. That was until she was surprised to see the number for Poquoson City Public Schools on her caller ID in mid-March. School officials over 450 miles away were calling to let her know they found the wallet.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting it,” French said. “I was absolutely shocked to learn about this.”

Emily Forrest, professional learning and digital communications administrator for the school district, said construction workers found the wallet in February in ductwork beneath the building, which is now the district’s middle school, while demolishing the gym as part of a renovation project.

Forrest said the school district’s executive director of operations, Steve Pappas, thought it was a nice piece of history and would be a cool story to track down the original owner.

Using an address book in the wallet, school officials tracked down a former classmate of French. The classmate got a hold of a family member of French, who gave school officials a number to contact her.

“When we finally got a hold of her, she was surprised to see her school on her caller ID,” Forrest said. “She shared that she was devastated at the time and hadn’t thought about it in years, and it was very exciting for her.”

School officials mailed the wallet back to French.

“It’s quite something to have found it and have found me,” said French, as she looked through the wallet at her Beacon Falls home earlier this month.

The wallet still had some stamps, an old rusted key, and 85 cents in it — including a dime from 1918. There was also her social security card, two pictures of a former neighbor, a Poquoson High School document detailing some of her classes, and a newspaper clipping of an article asking God to protect “Jimmie,” a sailor in the U.S. Navy at the time of the Korean War.

French couldn’t recall why she kept the clipping in the wallet.

Esther French, 85, holds a newspaper clipping that was in her long-lost wallet April 5 at her home in Beacon Falls. French lost the wallet during her junior year at Poquoson High School in Poquoson, Va., 70 years ago. Construction workers found the wallet in February in ductwork during a renovation project. –ANDREAS YILMA

French was born and raised in Mathews County, Va., and moved to Poquoson when she was 13 years old. While in nursing school in 1955, she met her husband, Ray French, an Ansonia native who was stationed in Northfolk, Va., with the Navy.

They married in 1957 in Virginia and moved to Derby. They lived in Ansonia and Seymour, before finally settling down in Beacon Falls in 1960. The couple has three children, five grandchildren and is expecting their seventh great-grandchild.

“I would say this was quite exciting and funny to my children and grandchildren,” French said about the wallet’s homecoming.

French plans to send the wallet back to Poquoson City Public Schools. She hadn’t decided yet what she’s going to keep from it.

Forrest said officials asked French if she could return the wallet and some of the items in it, so they can be showcased at the school once the renovation project is complete. Students are expected to return to the school in the beginning of 2023.

Forrest said officials want to display the wallet as a way to connect students to the past.

“We pride ourselves in history and connections,” Forrest said. “We would certainly treasure it.”