To understand this story, you have to go back 30 years and 600 miles to a pawn shop in Junction City, Kansas.
It was there that a Chicago guy stationed at a local U.S. Army base hawked a handful of $100 savings bonds. It was quick cash for a young man in need of a little spending money.
Little did he know, that exchange would find its way back to him as a 58-year-old man, when he was in even greater need.
Chris Mathis, owner of that Kansas pawn shop, got his mind set on finding the owners of the savings bonds that stacked up over the years. He took over the shop from his dad years ago and decided he would put his own spin on it, by returning money to the guys who came in decades ago, down on their luck. He found over 50 of them, but one, Woodrow Wilson Jr., still sat in his drawer. All he knew was he was from Chicago and police had one picture, when he was arrested for loitering. It was not uncommon for a man who had been homeless for the last three years.
WGN News heard he was often seen at the corner of Van Buren and LaSalle but the frigid temperatures left most off the unprotected blocks. Shelters were overflowing and those who knew of him say they hadn’t seen Woody in over a week.
That’s until yesterday afternoon.
“Yes! I remember the pawn shop!” Wilson said when WGN’s Erin Ivory approached him and told him about the savings bonds from so long ago. He was surprised to learn that his handful of $100 savings bonds were now fully matured to just over three grand.
“You could use $3,000, right?”
“Yeah! Yeah!” he replied, but his face remained skeptical.
Erin put Wilson on the phone with Mathis.
“She told me about it but I thought she was trying to trick me,” Wilson said to him.
Mathis made plans to get the money to Wilson by Friday. It was relief to a man who has been turned away by crowded shelters and desperate for a warm place to sleep for over a week.
“They’ve been jam packed. You just can’t get in.”
With just two pairs of pants and a blanket in his backpack, Wilson says the money will be enough to get him off the street for good this winter.
“He could have kept it himself and cashed it in. I’m surprised he’s going to give it back to me. It means a lot because I don’t have nothing. It really helps me.”
Mathis says giving these savings bonds back to people has brought him more joy than anything handed to him across the counter over the years.
Wilson was the last name in that drawer of old bonds and now he feels they are exactly where they are meant to be.
An update to this story we brought you last week:
Woodrow Wilson Jr. now has his bonds. He received a letter and the bonds from Kansas pawn shop owner Chris Mathis on Jan. 5.
The moment was captured by Sun-Times reporter Mitchell Armentrout who first asked for Chicago’s help in locating Wilson.
Mathis expressed gratitude to the good people of Chicago for helping him track down Wilson.