Ruthe Harshman says she’s rarely at a loss for words.
But last May when she received a call saying her charm bracelets that had been missing for 20 years had turned up in Iowa, she couldn’t summon any words to describe her happiness.
However, when Harshman and Mary Christensen, of Robbins, Iowa, met in person for the first time last week, there was no lack of conversation or smiles.
Christensen’s aunt, Glendale Reeve, lives in Spokane, giving Christensen the opportunity to not only travel here for a little family reunion, but also to meet Harshman.
“(Harshman) is so delightful. I’m thankful I found her while she was alive,” joked Christensen. “The more we talk the more we realize what we have in common.”
“I’m just so in awe of this lady,” Harshman said. “For her to hold on to something so worthless to her for so long, it means the world to me.”
The story began in 1987 when allegedly some jewelry thieves in the Chicago airport were interrupted in their mischief and put their stolen jewelry into a suitcase belonging to Christensen.
“When I had first found them (the bracelets) in a plastic bag in my luggage I called the airline, and they had said there was no way to track who they belonged to,” Christensen said. “I wore some of it for a while but then just stored it away.”
When she was doing some cleaning last spring after her retirement from teaching she came across a basket with the bracelets and decided to give it another go in finding their owner.
One of the charm bracelets had some charms with the names Bob and Ruthe on it, so Christensen tried using this information and the Internet to locate their owner.
“First I found a couple in Seattle who were really interested in the story but were not the owners of the bracelet,” she said. “Next I found a couple in Florida, but they weren’t the owners either.”
After the first attempt failed to turn up any results, she found inspiration in her reading.
“I was reading a book by (National Public Radio commentator) Bob Greene, I don’t remember which one, when I thought about how the lost bracelets would be a kind of story he would do,” she said. “I found an e-mail address for him and sent him the story idea, and he told me he would get back to me after his trip. He ended up doing the story on NPR.”
Listening to the story was Harshman’s grandson’s wife’s college roommate who thought the names of Ruthe, her husband and children and their birthdays sounded familiar. A week later all of the information was put together to determine that the bracelets belonged to Harshman.
Once it was verified, a new story was run on NPR which included surprising Harshman with a phone call about her bracelets.
“My daughter kept trying to get me to listen to NPR,” Harshman. “We turned it on, and it was some bad music so I asked my daughter, ‘You thought I would like this?’ and she replied, ‘It was good a while ago.’ ”
Not long after she turned off the radio, Harshman received a phone call from NPR broadcaster Michele Norris telling her that with the help of her family and Christensen, her bracelets had been found.
Harshman was so happy to hear that her lost bracelets were going to be returned she sent a huge basket of flowers before Christensen had sent the package.
“She is a trusting, believing woman to send that beforehand,” Christensen said with a laugh.
“Getting the bracelets back was unbelievable,” Harshman said. “The charms have all kinds of memories. Bob (Ruthe’s husband) passed away seven years ago, and he gave me this heart charm. Getting this back is everything.”
One of the two bracelets was given to Harshman by her landlady in Switzerland and is filled with memories from her time spent there.
“It is kind of neat, how, by thievery, something good came,” she said with a smile. “We’ve made several friendships despite original wrongdoing.”