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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Front Porch: EWU library book ordinary, yet extraordinary

This is about a delightful little adventure involving lost jewelry and lost memory and a bit of kindly detective work that solved the mystery of “The Extraordinary Ordinary Book.”

The heroes of the tale are librarians and staff at Eastern Washington University. I know about it because I was peripherally, but unknowingly, involved.

Here’s the story. A particular book arrived at EWU’s JFK Library last fall in one of a number of boxes of books donated by the Rockwood Retirement Communities in Spokane. When people move to Rockwood, they often give some or all of their books to the library there, which, in turn, after a period of time and to make room for newer donations, donates them to EWU. Books should always live on past first and even second use.

This is where I make my brief appearance. As a former employee of the university and member of the erstwhile EWU Friends of the Library, I volunteer to drive the books from Spokane to Cheney. I am transport.

The item in question is the most plain-looking and blandly titled 1985 tome: “Toward the Year 2000: World Business Leaders Speak Out on the Future of Free Enterprise.” I’m pretty sure that not one single person ever took it down from the shelves at the Rockwood Library, other than to put it in a box to go to EWU. You’ll find out shortly why I’m confident of that.

EWU receives books from other places, as well as from retired faculty and others in the region, so when books arrive, they are stored intermingled with others in a room for some gentle processing and to see if any should be added to EWU’s collection.

There is an ongoing book sale on the main floor of the JFK Library, with proceeds going to the EWU Libraries’ college endowment fund within the EWU Foundation, which is used to help the library purchase databases. Most of the donated books go to the book sale, but first, each is examined to be sure it doesn’t contain identifying information from the original owner tucked into the pages or inside the front cover – personal letters, for example.

“It’s our due diligence,” said Rose Knight, JFK’s business manager. So when Crystal Belwood, a circulation desk employee, was examining donated books in December and tried to open the aforementioned book, she couldn’t, as the pages appeared to be glued together. She was, however, able to open the cover, and discovered the book had been hollowed out and turned into a book safe, which had two compartments – each filled with jewelry, including strands of real pearls that, they came to learn, had been purchased in Shanghai.

It was a treasure … and a mystery. Whose book safe was it and where did it come from? They got to work.

Knight and Amy Laskowski, JFK marketing and events coordinator, laid everything out and examined the notes that accompanied each piece of jewelry. There were some clues, such as the occasional name of an individual or a “from Grandma B.”

James Rosenzweig, JFK’s education librarian, who helps friends and family do genealogical research, used his expertise, plus that of librarians in general, and conducted online searches using the names from the notes, looking for obituaries, marriage certificates, census records and more.

“It was the kind of detective work people involved with genealogy do,” he said. As he matched up names and ages and relationships, he was pretty sure the owner of the jewelry was a member of the Black family of Spokane. He homed in particularly on one name: Marjorie Black.

Knight then searched more recent obituaries in The Spokesman-Review and found, in an Idaho edition, one for Edward Peterson in 2003, whose wife was listed as Marjorie Black Peterson. It all clicked. But there was still more to do.

Thinking the book safe might have come from Rockwood, she checked to see if there was a resident there with that name. There was.

Marjorie Black Peterson is the mother of Dave Black, who is CEO of NAI Black real estate companies and who holds power of attorney for her. She resides in the memory care area at Rockwood.

“We had completely forgotten it,” he told me when we talked about the book safe’s recent adventures. “Mom had begun hiding things everywhere, so my sister gave her the book safe some years back to store her jewelry in.”

Unfortunately, the book safe was unintentionally among the books they donated to Rockwood’s library. Fortunately, his mother had included notes with the jewelry about what many of the pieces were and to whom some of them should go.

The book safe and jewelry were returned to him, and he said his brother will be in charge of distributing the items as his mother wished. When he told his mother the book safe had been found – even though no one knew it had been lost – she didn’t at first remember it, but then thought “it was great that it was back.”

“I think those librarians did a huge service,” he said. “When they saw it, they went to some lengths to find out who owned it. That was so honest and forthright. It was just darn cool. Thank you.”

Here ends the story of the Ordinary Extraordinary Book and its journey from lost to found and the thoughtful sleuthing of some caring library folks, whose contributions are always to be valued, perhaps no better demonstrated than with this act of kindness.

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