Anyone who has ever lost anything in a big city airport knows it's pretty much a lost cause. The chances of getting it back are slim and none, and you know which one left town. Heck, getting a suitcase back from "lost luggage" is difficult enough, but walking off and forgetting your prized digital Nikon camera in the busy Cincinnati Airport is a gone-forever-moment.
That's exactly what Louisvillian Lloyd Gardner did several months ago as he and his wife, Janet departed for a vacation to Ireland in April.
"When we got there I realized I didn't have it in my backpack when I got ready to take some pictures," Gardner offered. "The only thing we could figure out was we left it at home."
The story picks up from here.
Sometime in early May I received a phone message at my Bowling Green home.
"Mr. West this is Mike Lewer in Kansas City calling you about a camera I found in the Cincinnati Airport. It has some pictures of an old basketball gym in Wayland, Kentucky, some pictures inside the gym, and some pictures of a basketball player named Kelly Coleman. Please call me."
It was a late Sunday afternoon when I got the message, but I thought I would call the number anyway. As I expected his office was closed. I will call back Monday, I remember thinking. But, wouldn't you know, I accidentally erased his message and along with it the phone number. Oh well, I probably didn't know whose camera it was anyway, and why would he be calling me.
A few days later I had the answer.
This time I received an email, once again telling me about the camera he had found. I called him.
Mike Lewer owns an insurance company in Kansas City that does business nationally requiring him flying in and out of lots of airports.
"I found this camera on a seat in the Southwest terminal," he said. "It's got those pictures of the Wayland gym and some of a couple, it looks like, on vacation."
I told him I would put him in contact with Jerry Fultz, the Mayor of Wayland. Jerry could check around and see if anyone was missing a camera.
I called Jerry and clued him in on the unusual call I had gotten.
"You're not going to believe this, but I got a strange email from Mike Fields in Lexington," he said.
Fields had retired sometime back as a sports columnist at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, and he messaged Fultz concerning an email about a camera this guy in Kansas City found that was possibly connected to Wayland.
Mike Lewer in Kansas City sent Mike Fields: "Mike can you give me a call at my office tomorrow, I found a camera at the airport in Covington last Friday and think it may belong to a relative of Kelly Coleman."
Fields thought it might be a scam so he didn't respond, Fultz said. He did, however, contact J.R. VanHoose, a former Kentucky Mr. Basketball, from Paintsville, and a friend to Coleman.
"Hey J.R., I got this email and didn't know if it was legit or some kind of scam. Thought maybe you would know if Kelly (Coleman) had any relatives who might have lost a camera. The email sounded suspicious to me."
So my phone call to Jerry Fultz started to make a little more sense. I gave him the phone number in Kansas City and the two connected with Lewer agreeing to send him a few of the pictures on the camera.
"I couldn't believe it," laughed Fultz. "When I saw the pictures there was Lloyd Gardner, and I immediately knew who the camera belonged to."
Fultz contacted Lewer and Gardner, telling them the case of the missing camera was solved ... well sort of.
"I couldn't believe it," Gardner said. "I thought I'd never see that camera again, especially after we got back home and couldn't find it there either.
"I know the camera was found in the Southwest terminal, but we were never there. We flew United Airlines. I've thought about it and the only thing I can come up with is that when security took the camera out of my backpack it never was put back. Whoever came behind me could have picked it up. They could have flown Southwest and just put it down in the seat."
But it still leaves to be answered how did I, Mike Fields, J.R. Vanhoose, Jerry Fultz, and Lloyd Gardner become connected with the missing camera?
We had all been together in Wayland on March 21, to honor King Kelly Coleman along with some 60 former sports stars and friends. Gardner took pictures of the gym.
"I had a bunch of memories on that camera," said Gardner. "I even had some pictures of a Greece vacation a couple of years ago."
Why would someone several states away become so passionate about locating the owner of a camera he found?
Lewer had gone on line and saw that I had written a book on King Kelly. He also saw that Fields had written a column about Coleman in Lexington. That's how he found us.
"It became a challenge to me," Lewer laughed in a phone call with me. "I just thought someone would want these pictures."
Gardner agreed with me that not many people out there would make such an effort.
"Gentlemen, thanks for helping us find Lloyd Gardner," Lewer wrote in an email. "We mailed the camera and Lloyd phoned to let me know it was delivered safe and sound. Thanks again for your assistance, Mike."
"He even overnighted it to me by UPS," added Gardner.
Mike Lewer is the one who deserves the thanks. Thanks for proving there are still people out there who cared enough to do the right thing.
Get up, get out and get going! Gary P. West can be reached at email@example.com.