Bill Lowe was just doing his job last week when he emptied a trash can in a classroom on the campus of Turlock High.
Inside, he found a jacket.
“When I picked up the jacket and looked at it, I could see there was something bulging from both chest pockets,” Lowe said. He opened one pocket and pulled out an envelope.
“I thought maybe there would be a mailing address or a return address.” Instead, through the plastic window, he saw $100 bills. So he checked the other pocket. There he found another envelope, with more money.
He also found a credit union receipt, which would prove the key to finding the jacket’s owner.
Lowe called his supervisor, who in turn called Principal Marie Peterson. She counted the money, all $3,400 of it.
Peterson turned everything over to school resource officer Neil Raumann, who got in touch with the credit union. Through the account information on the receipt, Raumann tracked down the owner – a man from Clovis who had lost the jacket at a January 2013 swap meet at the Stanislaus County Fairground.
That was one mystery solved, but it engendered a second: How did a jacket lost at one location end up at another, more than a mile away, nearly a year and a half later?
Peterson said educators figured that out pretty quickly: Student volunteers with the FFA had worked at the swap meet.
“What typically will happen is the ag students will get ‘hired’ for an event,” she said. “They volunteer to work, and the organization makes a donation to the ag program.”
Peterson’s theory is that the students picked up the jacket as they were cleaning up and heading back to school. It got stuck in a box, and there it sat for 16 months.
Ag students were doing some spring cleaning when they came upon the jacket. The teacher noted that the jacket had been in the box for a while, and clearly hadn’t been claimed by anyone, so they threw it away. And that’s when Lowe, a Turlock High janitor since 2006, found it.
Peterson, impressed with the story and with Lowe’s actions, posted the tale on the high school’s Facebook page Wednesday.
As of Thursday afternoon, the item had been seen by 40,000 people and had attracted 2,100 likes and 101 comments. It’s far and away Peterson’s most popular post.
“Typical is probably a couple hundred (views),” she said.
Though people are impressed with Lowe’s actions, nobody seems terribly surprised.
Wrote Lisa Yvette Jensen, “Bill, you are awesome, and not just because of this story. Way to go, fellow Bulldog!”
Peterson said Lowe’s work has generated positive reviews for years.
“The feedback I receive about Bill is he’s very honest,” she said. “He’s hardworking and has attention to detail.”
The Clovis man, who did not want to be identified, was thrilled to get his jacket – and his money – back. It’s not unusual for people to bring a lot of cash to swap meets; it’s used in many transactions. The man had filed a report with police after he realized he had misplaced his jacket, but he had given up hope of finding it after so many months had passed.
“He came and picked it up from our school resource officer,” Peterson said. “He’d pretty much written it off, sure it was gone forever. All the time, it was sitting in our classroom.”
As for Lowe, he said it didn’t occur to him to keep the money.
“I did what I would expect from anybody else,” Lowe said.
He didn’t get to meet the jacket owner because the man came to school before Lowe’s afternoon shift began. But he did get a letter of thanks from him, along with a token of the man’s appreciation.
But Lowe didn’t keep that, either. It went to his wife.
“After 31 years of marriage, I think I have learned something,” he said with a chuckle.