On one of her final days in Sitka, Alaska, Chantal Cough-Schulze hiked Harbor Mountain, walking a ridge she’d traveled often.
“I saw there’d been a new rock slide,” Cough-Schulze said. “And lying there, about 2 feet off the trail, was a wallet.”
Not as unusual as you might think, Cough-Schulze said. Hikers, hunters, outdoors folks of all stripes hike that mountain just outside of town.
Still, when she picked it up she knew it was unusual.
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It was a small time capsule, and though there was no cash in it, there was a student ID card from the University of Washington — from 1975. There was a credit card that had expired in 1976. There was a tiny bank calendar and a library card.
All in the name of Bruce Adair Warden Jr.
Cough-Schulze took it all home, then went on her computer.
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For 17 years, Warden had called Sitka home, but once he left he just kept moving.
“I was there from 1975 until 1992,” Warden said. “I taught school in Silverdale, then spent 13 years overseas in Japan on a Navy base, then a German army base, then back to a Japan air base. I worked for the Department of Defense independent schools.”
“I was a restless soul.”
Warden grew up in Tacoma, attended Wilson High School, then UW and Pacific Lutheran University. In 1968, he joined the Army and spent 1970 in Vietnam.
When he got out, he let his hair grow long.
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Cough-Schulze found Warden’s name and a Gig Harbor telephone number through Google, but the number no longer belonged to Warden.
“I wanted to solve this mystery of the wallet, so I found a ‘Talk of the Town’ page for Gig Harbor on Facebook,” Cough-Schulze said. “I emailed 12 page administrators, explaining why I was looking, and asked if anyone knew Mr. Warden.”
Two days later, someone did and, with Warden’s permission, sent the new telephone number to Cough-Schulze.
“We’d moved to Spanaway,” Warden said.
Once Cough-Schulze got him on the phone and told him about the wallet, the first thing Warden asked was, “What do I look like in the student ID?”
Warden liked the answer.
“She said, ‘Long hair and a mustache,’ ” Warden said.
He doesn’t remember losing the wallet, though he does remember walking Harbor Mountain. In 1975, he was 26 years old. Today, he’s 66.
“I was kind of rebellious after my Army duty,” Warden said. “I liked Sitka a lot — absolutely gorgeous area — but it rained about 990 inches a year.”
Well, an average of 131 inches, anyway.
Though he lost his wallet there, Warden found a wife, Kathleen. She’s now a fifth-grade teacher in Tacoma’s Sheridan Elementary School. Warden is retired.
Among the oddities of this story, Cough-Schulze today is nearly the same age as Warden was when he lost his wallet.
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“I think we’re kindred spirits,” Cough-Schulze said of Warden. “We both love moving around.”
Cough-Schulze was in Sitka on an AmeriCorps assignment, one that ended the day after she called Warden. From Alaska, she wasn’t completely sure where she was headed.
“Home is a little fuzzy right now,” Cough-Schulze said. “My folks just moved to North Carolina, but I’m not from there. With the weather last week, I didn’t want to go there.”
So where did she go? Roseburg, Oregon.
“I had friends there, but I didn’t know anyone who was shot at Umpqua Community College,” Cough-Schulze said. “But I did know someone who was in the classroom next door to the shooting.”
Last week, Schulze overnighted the wallet to Warden, and it arrived Friday.
“I opened it, saw the ID and thought, ‘Man, you need a haircut!’ ” Warden said. “That was a long time ago.
“Chantal could not have been nicer about all of this, and we’ve promised to stay in touch,” Warden said. “She went through a lot of effort to find me after she found the wallet.
“I don’t think most people would have done it.”