Who was lost when you crossed your bridge through time?

Lonny Cain

Who are the people we ignore?

Ignore is a harsh word, I suppose. Although it feels that way at times, about the people we don’t stay in touch with.

We know we should, but time builds this vast bridge that stretches too far into the past. Reconnecting isn’t easy. Or is it?

Such are my thoughts these days thanks to P.J. Trzeciak, a 75-year-old woman who lives in Spokane, Washington. She emailed me with a bit of local history and a plea to help her find a long-lost friend.

She wrote: “I’m looking back many years when I was Phyllis Jordon living in Ottawa at the Ottawa Detention Home at the end of Shabbona Street. ... My brother and I lived as ‘orphans’ there when we were in the third grade ... went to Shabbona School ... 70 some years ago. … There were no homes available for orphans, so the school system placed us there.

“We came home from school one day to no parents. We could only be there one year before being adopted out. It was a place for wayward kids. We were not wayward, just homeless. After the year we were placed in foster care.

“I’ve been trying to find someone for years now. Her name then was Shirley Koeppe. She was the only one that befriended me when we lived in that horrible place. ... I remember that she was so very kind to me when everyone else treated us ‘as orphans.’ I would love to find her. I’ve always remembered her kindness.

“I have a brother who is 11 months younger than me. Today, we both are no longer victims but VICTORS in life. During our stay at the Detention Center we attended Paul Street Bible Church. A gift, indeed. It was an oasis for us!

“It would bring such joy to connect with Shirley and share with her how her kindness has never left me.”

I told P.J. I’d do some digging. I got lucky and quickly found Shirley Jean Koeppe in the Class of 1964 at Ottawa Township High School. Then, thank you Facebook, I found her married name is now Thompson and the family lives in Sheridan. I shared contact info with P.J.

“OMG ... I just spent 45 min on the phone with Shirley Jean Koeppe Thompson!” wrote P.J. “What a GIFT you gave me. ... Now that we are reconnected we’ll be able to have an adult relationship. She remembered me AND my brother and much more! Shirley was one person from my past that is a beautiful memory!!!”

Soon after I heard from Shirley: “I was thrilled to get the call from her. I remember her coming to my house and my mom having to write a note to the detention home for her to come to our house each time she visited.

“I tried to locate her whereabouts while attending Ottawa High School. We did correspond when she lived in Streator because I had her address. She didn’t remember that. After I was married I had a friend from Streator and asked if she remembered a Phyllis Jordan in high school. She was a year older but did remember her but had no idea where she had gone.

“I have thought of her often over the years and it was wonderful to talk again after all these years. Thank you for helping us connect again.”

Connect. Yeah, it felt good to hear that. So many times I’ve made amazing connections through this column. Now this – helping someone shrink a huge gap in time.

“Stay in touch.” How many times have I said that?

Now, of course, I’m thinking about that bridge across time and the people I might find on the other side.

Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His PaperWork email is lonnyjcain@gmail.com. Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.