OWOSSO TWP. — It was remarkable Sunday when Howard Kirby of Ovid found $43,170 in cash tucked inside the cushion of a footstool he had purchased at the Habitat For Humanity Restore.
It was even more remarkable when, Thursday, Kirby turned over every last dollar to the person who had donated the stool to the Restore, having no idea there was treasure hidden within it.
“This is crazy,” Kim Fauth-Newberry, 38, of Owosso — staring at the stacks of mostly hundred dollar bills in her hands — kept saying as Kirby told her the story when they met up at the Restore.
Kirby, 64, had no legal obligation to return the money, as the attorney he called told him. It was a case of “finders keepers, losers weepers.”
He could have used the influx of cash, too, having recently retired as a supervisor of maintenance at Walmart and gone through a divorce. But he was determined to track down the donor, if possible, and do what he believed was the right thing.
“Christ said, if you love me, keep my commandments,” Kirby said. “I do what I can to be as much like Christ as I can, and this is the moral thing to do. This is going to help them. I’m so happy for them.”
Fauth-Newberry is the granddaughter of Phillip Fauth of Corunna, who passed away in July 2019 at age 87. She inherited his house, along with the furniture that remained after other relatives had taken what they wanted.
She and her husband, Mike Newberry, decided to donate an old living room set of her grandfather’s to the Restore. Shortly after Christmas, Kirby purchased the entire set for $70.
“We thought someone else could use it,” Newberry said. “We never expected a phone call.”
“Not like this,” Fauth-Newberry added.
Sunday, Kirby’s daughter-in-law, Diane Kirby, noticed the footstool cushion didn’t indent the way she expected when she rested her feet on it. She unzipped the cushion, and found multiple stacks of bills, neatly separated with paper clips and topped with handwritten notes.
“Money!” she shouted. “Thousands of dollars!”
Howard Kirby came running.
“A feather could have blown me over,” he said. “I never held that much money in my hand before. I knew it would not be right to keep it. I had to make an effort to find the person who donated it.”
The next day, Monday, Kirby went to the Restore and asked co-manager Rick Merling if he knew where the living room set came from. Merling looked up the Newberrys in his records, and called Mike Newberry, 41.
Merling said he didn’t want the Newberrys to stress out, so he said only that something belonging to their family had been found in the furniture.
The Newberrys said they expected photos, letters or military medals.
Merling set up a meeting at the Restore Thursday afternoon. Kirby, his son, Benjamin Kirby, and his daughter-in-law arrived minutes before the Newberrys, including their son, Trevor Newberry, 11, an eighth-grader at Owosso Middle School.
The Newberrys got the shock of their lives, but Fauth-Newberry said stashing the cash fit her grandfather’s personality.
The General Motors retiree was a frugal man who always paid in cash, even for a $9,000 roofing job.
Not long before a brain tumor put him in the hospital, he distributed $60,000 to a number of area churches, she said.
He died last July.
The Newberrys told Howard Kirby they were in the process of trying to fix up Phillip Fauth’s old house, but money was short. Mike Newberry was recently laid off from his job. Faith-Newberry is a reading teacher at Bryant Elementary in Owosso.
Receiving the cash was a kind of miracle, though Fauth-Newberry said they would have to consult a lawyer to find out if it all legally belonged to them now.
“You always hope for happy endings,” Merling said. “I’m glad the family was able to get the money, but the biggest story out of all this is the character of this man, Howard Kirby.
“He’s a regular customer in this store, and I’ve known him for years. You can just tell that people like him have something within them that is honorable.”
“That’s a stand-up gentleman,” Newberry said of Kirby. “I wish more people could be like that.”
“I’m proud of my dad,” Benjamin Kirby said. “I just hope I would do the same.”