Huntington realtor finds mystery gift awaiting her recently that’s true ‘blast from the past’

Janet McElhaney (left) thanks Scott Scheiber for finding and returning her childhood desk, after they met on Dec. 28. Scheiber found the desk, which was lost for more than 60 years, in a furnace room he was cleaning out and decided to find its original owner.
Janet McElhaney (left) thanks Scott Scheiber for finding and returning her childhood desk, after they met on Dec. 28. Scheiber found the desk, which was lost for more than 60 years, in a furnace room he was cleaning out and decided to find its original owner. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published Jan. 2, 2016.

Janet McElhaney returned back to her office at Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber in downtown Huntington on Dec. 20, to find a mystery gift awaiting her, left by a mysterious deliveryman.

It was a long-lost treasure from McElhaney’s childhood and turned out to be one of her best Christmas presents ever, she notes.

“I was working and I came in – it had been a stressful week,” she remembers. “I come around the corner and here’s this desk. It had a little red bow on it, and I said, ‘Oh my goodness – where did this come from?’ … It’s a blast from the past.”

The little wooden child’s desk, decorated with a clown, balloons and a little dog – had returned to her from when she had it as a child, some 60-plus years ago, she recalls.

“It was something I had gotten for a Christmas present, years back, when I was little,” McElhaney says. “I remember moving from 1108 N. Broadway to 2104 Sabine, and this came with me, so it was when I was real young. I remember having a little chair and I would sit right here and work at this little desk. I could color, I could use chalk – it’s really a chalkboard. And it had a little shelf and that’s where I would put my eraser and my chalk.”

The desk was also well-marked with Janet Sue Wilson’s name and even her address, 2104 Sabine St., in multiple places, making sure there was no doubt of its owner. But until it arrived at her office, McElhaney, now 68, believed it was just a fond memory.

“She doesn’t know how it got lost,” joked Bob Burnsworth, one of her colleagues at Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber. “Every little piece has her name on it.”

Janet Wilson grew up, moved out of her family’s home, got married and raised her own family, outgrowing and losing track of the little desk. The years went by.

“It was too long ago,” she says. “When you’re young and you have children, you don’t even think about such things. It’s gone.”

And then, like a friendly ghost of Christmas past, she walked into her office and saw her old friend.

Jeanine Martin, one of McElhaney’s associates, was in the office at the time the desk arrived, and although the man gave her his name, he was in and out quickly and she didn’t write it down. Later, when McElhaney returned, she couldn’t remember for sure whom it was who had delivered the nostalgic gift.

The mysterious man told Martin that he had found it in a house he was cleaning up, then did a little research to find the name of the desk’s owner. In a town like Huntington, it wasn’t long before he found somebody who remembered little Janet Wilson, and where she could now be found.

“I don’t even know which house he was in,” Martin says. “In hindsight, I should have taken more information down … I couldn’t believe it – it was just so neat.”

Who was the mysterious man who delivered the desk? McElhaney wanted to write him a personal thank you. Martin remembered it was something like Scheiber, or Shively, or perhaps a Scott Somebody. Maybe Scott Scheiber? She just wasn’t sure.

McElhaney even posted a picture of the desk on her Facebook page, asking if anyone knew who had brought her old desk back after so many years. There were plenty of comments, but no answers.

Turns out, it was a simple look through the paperback phone book, an old-fashioned tool to solve an old-fashioned mystery. There was Scott Scheiber’s name, along with his address and a landline phone number. He quickly ’fessed up to being the man who returned McElhaney’s desk.

“I found it in my furnace room, and I just thought that it looked like somebody really cared for it and it had their name and their address all over it,” he recalls. “I figured, as old as it was, it had to be older than me, and I just thought it would be kind of fun to put it with the person if she was still around.”

Scheiber, 53, who doesn’t have a cell phone, computer or Internet access, was glad to know he had returned the desk to the right person, since he hadn’t heard anything back since his delivery.

“The man that I bought the house from had said that some Wilsons lived here,” he explains. “He said the people that signed off the house was a bunch of the Wilson kids, so I figured that it came from when they lived here and it was back there, and nobody had been in that furnace room for 30 years.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 28, McElhaney finally met Scheiber and thanked him in person for his kindness.

“I got out of it what Iwanted,” Scheiber said, “was to see someone who had cared for it so much get it back.”

For the most part, although it shows its age, the desk is intact and the colorful clown and dog decoration is in good shape. With a little lemon oil to recondition the wood, McElhaney hopes to rehabilitate it to being usable again. Having her prized desk back in her possession is one of the best Christmas gifts she’s received, she says.

“It was gone for years. It’s nice to have it back … It almost brought tears to my eyes,” McElhaney says. “It sure made my day, yes it did. It might have even made my year. It’s pretty important. At least to me.”

Now that the mystery has been solved, McElhaney plans to take the desk home and display it in a place of honor — for the time being.

“I have a new grandchild coming,” she says. “Maybe I’ll get some chalk.”