By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
A JUNIPER BUSH AT PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Many people have misplaced their wallet before, but to have it returned 30 years later is amazing.
That is what happened to one former Peterson service member.
Debra Castle, who retired from the Air Force in 1994, lost her wallet one night outside of the old Peterson NCO Club in 1983. The building, which now houses the 21st Medical Group, was being inspected for exterior work when the discovery was made.
“We were doing a pre-construction assessment of (building 725),” said Steven Tavernaro, 21st Medical Group building maintenance and contract manager. “We had to cut away and climb back behind a bush to get to the corner of the building. I looked down and saw this wallet inside the bush. It was suspended in the branches.”
Unbeknownst to Tavernaro, he was the first person to touch the wallet in 30 years. He originally thought it may have belonged to someone working in the area until he took a closer look.
“I grabbed it and looked at it — I remembered having one of these old wallets back in the ‘80s, one of the old Velcro ones,” said Tavernaro. “I opened it up and there were all of these documents in it, an old military ID, a banking card and Firestone membership card. I started looking at the dates on the documents; the military ID card was dated 1983.”
The wallet had been suspended in the juniper’s branches ever since it was a small bush of about four feet tall. Now more than 15 feet tall and covering the corner of the building, the evergreen canopy had protected the wallet from the weather for three decades.
“We needed to find a home for this; we needed to find out whose this is,” Tavernaro said of the find. “We are talking the ‘80s here. How many people have walked by that bush in the past 30 years? I thought it would be something nice for this person to have it back, and this started the whole process of trying to return it.”
Just the mere fact that the nylon and Velcro wallet had survived this long was reason enough to hunt down the owner. Thus began the journey to find Debra Castle, a former civil engineer Airman, wherever she may be.
“We talked to the (21st Force Support Squadron) and they were able to give us the last known address of the individual. We had a couple phone numbers for her but none of them were valid. So, I typed a letter up saying, ‘I think I have something that belongs to you, please give me a call,’” said Maj. Mark Reynolds, 21st MDG administrator.
Reynolds received that call shortly after the letter was delivered. Debra Castle, now living near Tinker AFB in Oklahoma, remembered losing the wallet and was amazed that it was found after all these years.
“You have got to be kidding me,” said Castle, when Reynolds told her the wallet was sitting on his desk.
Shortly after that conversation, Reynolds placed the wallet into an envelope and mailed if to the owner.
“I was thrilled to death,” said Castle. “I thanked him up one side and down the other. I was just amazed that after 30 years they found it in the bushes and it was still intact. I couldn’t believe it; the Velcro still works.”
Now 60 years old, Castle said the wallet has become a conversation piece amongst her family and friends. She plans to put the wallet in a shadowbox and place it next to the folded flag she received when she retired.
“I’m glad she kept her information up-to-date in DEERS,” Reynolds said. “We wouldn’t have been able to find her without it.”