Val Hunziker once would have given a piece of her mind to the hit-and-run driver who crumpled her new red sports car 15 years ago in the Ferris High School parking lot.
Today the communications and computer keyboard teacher would give the culprit a huge hug.
Her change of heart is due to an envelope that arrived the other day at Ferris. Inside was a belated apology to Hunziker from the mystery driver, plus three wrinkled money orders totaling $700.
“I am very sorry about your car,” reads the anonymous, typewritten note. “I do hope this helps a little. I wish I could undo the damage.”
She can’t say for sure, but Hunziker suspects a student ran over the front end of her Mazda RX-7 and got scared.
“I always wanted to believe it was an accident,” she says. “I never wanted to think somebody hated me that much to come back at me through my new car.”
Getting ready to begin her 25th year of teaching, Hunziker calls the surprise the biggest back-to-school boost of her career.
The act of contrition is especially welcome after a particularly depressing summer of senseless youth violence.
In late August, three teens were shot in the Spokane Valley after a gang-related argument. Two teenage girls died a few weeks earlier when a young punk opened fire.
In July, a 15-year-old softball star lost an eye because of another gun-toting kid. The home of an 18-yearold was sprayed during a drive-by shooting in June.
“It’s been a bad time for kids,” agrees Hunziker. “But this is an inspiration.
“We all make mistakes. Here’s someone who obviously had a difficult time living with the guilt and tried to make things right.”
It happened not long after the school year began in 1980. Hunziker remembers a student walking into her room during the lunch break with a troubled look on her face.
“Don’t get upset,” the girl told her, “but I think you’d better go out in the parking lot and look at your car.”
Soon Hunziker was staring at the damage to the car she had owned less than two weeks.
The hood of the low-slung vehicle was caved into a V. It looked as if someone had driven a large truck right up the front of it.
“I was in shock,” says Hunziker. “The car was the nicest possession I’ve ever owned.”
Hunziker never tried to find out who did the damage. She called her insurance agent and “tried to wipe the slate clean and go on.”
Never again did she drive the Mazda to Ferris. After the car was repaired, she parked it in the garage and rarely took it out.
A few years later she sold it with less than 10,000 miles on the odometer. “It was a sad thing. I never drove another nice car to school. All you do is worry about it.”
She hopes her secret pen pal will find the courage to meet her.
“I’d love to tell that person what a wonderful thing this is,” she says of the letter. “I’d love to commend him for having the conscience and character to do the right thing.”
The serial numbers on the money orders are out of sequence, which means they were bought at different times. There is no signature or indication where they were sold.
Two are for $100 each. The third is for $500.
“You can tell they had been rolled up and stashed somewhere. They had been handled a lot,” says Hunziker. “I think the person spent a long time saving and thinking about this.”
She wants the driver to know she used the money to buy equipment for a new computer lab in her classroom.
Hunziker placed the money order receipts and the anonymous letter in a picture frame. She titled it, “A Reaffirmation of Faith.”
The unusual tribute will occupy a place of honor on her desk, she says, a powerful object lesson about right and wrong for future students.
“I try to encourage kids to be better human beings, that’s why I’m a teacher,” says Hunziker, named business teacher of the year in 1992.
“To be able to change lives and inspire kids. What more could I ask of a profession?”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo