Her family heirlooms were mistakenly donated to Goodwill. Two strangers helped her get them back.
By Burt Constable
During their four generations as political heavyweights in Geneva, the ancestors of Laura Carlson Spencer got out the vote for every Republican candidate. They helped elect her dad's father, Cliff Carlson, to Congress in 1972. Her mom's parents, Mono "Mac" and Patricia "Mimi" McLaughlin, were guests at Ronald Reagan's inauguration because of all the campaigning they did on his behalf in 1980. The family even helped deliver a Kane County victory for failed GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964.
And Wednesday afternoon, when it seemed as if her beloved family collection of antique political buttons capturing those decades was gone forever, Spencer registered a surprising, feel-good victory of her own, thanks to a considerate stranger and a helpful Goodwill employee.
The drama started at the first of this month, when Spencer, her husband, Seth Spencer, their 8-year-old daughter, Camryn, and their 2-month-old daughter, Vivian, moved from their house in St. Charles to a new home in Elburn. Still unpacking last Friday, Spencer finally got around to looking for the buttons, which her grandparents had mounted for her in three 5-inch-by-7-inch shadow boxes.
"We have a lot of stuff to unpack. I looked in the basement -- they weren't there. I looked in the garage -- they weren't there," Spencer said. She figured out that they were mistakenly included among the boxes of donations her father, John Carlson, drove to the Goodwill store in St. Charles.
At Goodwill, the items had been sorted and the buttons moved into the glass cabinets at the front of the store where Goodwill keeps its high-end objects. They sold three days before Spencer realized they were missing.
"To me, it's priceless memories of my grandfather and time spent with him," Spencer, 36, said of the boxes that included a Teddy Roosevelt Rough Riders campaign button from 1900, other old pins and the even the buttons Mimi McLaughlin wore during her years volunteering with the American Red Cross during World War II. Mimi, who died at age 93 in 2014, met her husband, a decorated Marine who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima, at Guadalcanal. Mac McLaughlin died in 2011 at age 91.
After hearing Spencer's sad story, Eric Moore, assistant store manager at the St. Charles Goodwill store, reached out to regular customers he thought might have bought the buttons. It turned out Frank Mazza, a 55-year-old former commodities trader who works as an auctioneer, had bought the collection for $74 with the idea of reselling the buttons.
"I'm a re-vendor. I sell a lot of merchandise online," said Mazza, who lives in West Chicago and works in an Illinois secretary of state facility. "I've always been a collector and reseller of things of value."
Mazza had sold his vast comic book collection, his stash of 500 G.I. Joe action figures and other toys and collectibles. He had just begun his research on the buttons, and was thinking he might be able to triple his investment, when Moore phoned him with Spencer's story.
"I know what she was going through," said Mazza, who has seen auctions where something sells only to be missed later. "I've seen it firsthand. It can actually make you ill."
So he packed up the buttons and drove them back to Goodwill, which refunded his money. Mazza said he doesn't want a reward.
"The money is irrelevant. It's not going to change my life, but it (getting her buttons back) is going to help her," Mazza said. "That's irreplaceable. You can't put a dollar value on that."
Spencer was reunited Wednesday with her buttons and the memories they represent.
"I thank him for being so kind," she said.
"Politics were big in our family, My grandfather would always ask me when I was going to run for Senate."
Mazza said he was happy he "was able to make her situation better."
"It makes me feel good," he said. "To that other person it makes them feel better and it changes their whole perspective on life."