When Lori Dodge-Dorsey started working at the Madison County Department of Job and Family Services 30 years ago, her job description didn’t include keeping hold of family heirlooms, but she did just that.
In the desk she inherited from her predecessor, she found an album full of vintage family photographs.
On the front page, a handwritten note read, “Book belongs to Alice Cunningham. If I died give these books to my son Richard Cunningham. Please keep.”
Over 30 years, Dodge-Dorsey kept the album on a shelf in her office. She would occasionally take off the shelf and leaf through the pages.
“Clearly, the lady wanted it to be passed on. You hate to think you are holding on to something someone would find so precious,” Dodge-Dorsey said.
She made attempts to reunite the book with its family, but was never successful. Most of her efforts happened before the Internet was expansive as it is now. People just weren’t as easy to find, she said.
Enter Cindy Shoemaker, another employee at the department. She wanted to take a crack at finding the family.
“It was her quest to find the family for Christmas,” said Tim Wilson, a friend of Shoemaker’s who assisted in the search this month.
Shoemaker and Wilson poured over the pictures, hoping to find some type of clue. Wilson got the idea to look at the photo backs and, sure enough, one read “5th grade — Mechanicsburg.”
He called a friend in Mechanicsburg. Unbelievably, she recognized the family name.
“It’s the neat thing about small towns… everybody knows everybody,” Shoemaker said. “What people do on the Internet is amazing, but nothing beats people in small towns.”
Shoemaker started her hunt last Tuesday. Three days later, the family was in the office, picking up the lost family photos.
“It’s kind of embarrassing,” Dodge-Dorsey joked. “After 30 years I couldn’t do it. Cindy was able to get it done.”
Alice Cunningham’s son, Richard, had passed away in his prime, leaving behind three young daughters: Judy, Cindy and Susie. Their mother, Ida, eventually remarried and gave birth to another daughter, Polly Hawk.
Judy and Hawk came to London last Friday to pick up the album.
“It was pretty amazing. I never see my sister cry, but when she opened that photo album tears were just running down her face,” said Hawk.
The photographs seem to be from the 1940s to 1960s. Whole pages were dedicated to Richard and Ida. Judy was able to see lost pictures of her father and retell family stories, this time with corresponding images. It seemed like an “emotional moment,” according to Dodge-Dorsey.
“After all these years, who would have thought someone would have had the heart to keep it this long?” said Hawk.
Dodge-Dorsey kept the mysterious keepsake throughout her entire career at JFS. She found it when she first started the job and now, less than a month before her retirement, it had found its way home.
Just in time for Christmas.
Reach Erin Thompson at 740-852-1616 ext. 1615.