Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Firefighter's kin reunited with keepsakes

But woman who turned in mementoes to fire hall a mystery

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'This book saved my marriage,' said the woman who turned it in.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

'This book saved my marriage,' said the woman who turned it in. Photo Store

One mystery solved. Just one mystery remains.

It's the story of the captain of a Winnipeg fire hall-turned-sleuth, who managed to reconnect a widow with the lost mementoes of her deceased firefighting husband -- including a memorial scrapbook -- that has an improbable ending.

Last Friday, an elderly lady walked in unannounced to the fire station at Redwood Avenue and McGregor Street and dropped off a bag "with some books." It happens all the time, said station captain Brent Cheater, since all city fire stations are drop-offs for the Children's Hospital charity book drive.

No one looked in the bag immediately or paid much attention to the woman, since an alarm sounded just after she entered the building.

Firefighters on hand only remember her saying: "This book saved my marriage."

It was only after Cheater had a few moments later that he looked in the bag. He found a photo album and what appeared to be a diary. Immediately, he recognized the photos from the album being images of David Konyk, who Cheater worked with occasionally over his years in the department.

A quick Google search filled in the blanks: Konyk passed away in 2011 just before his 65th birthday after succumbing to a rare form of cancer later determined to be related to his occupation. On the first anniversary of his death, widow Jocelyne Lavoie-Konyk flew to Winnipeg from Quebec --where the couple had relocated in retirement -- for a family ceremony. She brought with her a memorial scrapbook including pictures and badges belonging to her husband of 40 years.

On the way back to the airport, the bag containing both the scrapbook and personal journal fell from a car trunk onto the road somewhere between Ferry Road and the Winnipeg airport.

The Free Press wrote at the time about Lavoie's plea for help in retrieving the lost items. "It was like a life story," she said.

Over a year later, Cheater immediately realized the value of the items on his desk: priceless.

"As firefighters, we get this all the time," he said. "The most valuable things people lose are their photographs and family albums."

Cheater the captain then turned into Cheater the detective. He located the last email address of Jocelyne Lavoie-Konyk from the firefighters union. He found daughter Nadine still lived in Winnipeg.

He emailed mother and daughter of the discovery. It turned out Nadine was in the process of moving to Alberta the following Monday or Tuesday, and her mother was in town to help her pack.

They responded to Cheater's email immediately and on Saturday night -- just 24 hours later -- they were standing in the fire house picking up the scrapbook and journal.

"It was unbelievable," said Nadine Konyk. "It felt like closure. It's so amazing. It's hard to have words to describe it."

But Konyk did have a headline: "Firefighter returns safely home."

"It's a happy ending," she said.

Cheater was left thinking: What are the odds? That an anonymous little old lady would drop off the items out of the blue 15 months after they disappeared? Or that he would catch Nadine Konyk before she left Winnipeg, or that her mother would also be in town?

"For all this to click and them to get this back, the stars had to be aligned properly," Cheater said. "We like to say we look after family. We knew when we saw the photos we had to find out what happened."

Lavoie-Konyk was curious, too, about the whereabouts of her husband's "life story" for the last 15 months.

"Things work in funny ways," Jocelyne said. "After over a year, I thought I would have to get over it and move on. To me, it's like a miracle. It felt like a weight off my shoulder.

"It's a story to be cherished forever."

Which brings Cheater back to that elderly woman who remains the only unsolved mystery. And what in the journal "saved" her marriage?

"The real story now is trying to find that woman," the captain said, "and where this book went on its journey."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 A13

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