Her family heirlooms were mistakenly donated to Goodwill. Two strangers helped her get them back.

 
 
Updated 2/21/2019 10:20 AM
hello
  • When Laura Carlson Spencer of Elburn realized her prized collection of antique political buttons accidentally had been donated to Goodwill, she rushed to the store. But someone had bought the entire collection. On Wednesday, buyer Frank Mazza, 55, of West Chicago returned the buttons. "It makes me feel good," Mazza said.

      When Laura Carlson Spencer of Elburn realized her prized collection of antique political buttons accidentally had been donated to Goodwill, she rushed to the store. But someone had bought the entire collection. On Wednesday, buyer Frank Mazza, 55, of West Chicago returned the buttons. "It makes me feel good," Mazza said. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • In her right hand is a photograph featuring several relatives among the campaign workers for 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. In her left is her mother's collection of antique political buttons. But Laura Carlson Spencer says the button collection given to her by her grandparents accidentally was donated to Goodwill during her recent move from St. Charles to Elburn. On Wednesday, buyer Frank Mazza brought them back.

      In her right hand is a photograph featuring several relatives among the campaign workers for 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. In her left is her mother's collection of antique political buttons. But Laura Carlson Spencer says the button collection given to her by her grandparents accidentally was donated to Goodwill during her recent move from St. Charles to Elburn. On Wednesday, buyer Frank Mazza brought them back. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • After moving into their new home in Elburn, Laura Carlson Spencer, holding 2-month-old daughter Vivian, realized her prized collection of antique political buttons accidentally had been donated to Goodwill. Given to her by her grandparents, the collection also included her grandmother's personal American Red Cross buttons from World War II.

      After moving into their new home in Elburn, Laura Carlson Spencer, holding 2-month-old daughter Vivian, realized her prized collection of antique political buttons accidentally had been donated to Goodwill. Given to her by her grandparents, the collection also included her grandmother's personal American Red Cross buttons from World War II. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • During four generations of political activity, the family of Laura Carlson Spencer collected enough antique political buttons to give every family member a shadow box displaying them. But Spencer's buttons were mistakenly donated to Goodwill. On Wednesday, Frank Mazza, a buyer who often resells things online, heard her story and returned them to her.

      During four generations of political activity, the family of Laura Carlson Spencer collected enough antique political buttons to give every family member a shadow box displaying them. But Spencer's buttons were mistakenly donated to Goodwill. On Wednesday, Frank Mazza, a buyer who often resells things online, heard her story and returned them to her. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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.

With family roots in Geneva that go back four generations, Laura Carlson Spencer, holding 2-month-old Vivian, and her mother, Dody Carlson, look though old family photos. An heirloom collection of antique political campaign buttons accidentally was donated to Goodwill and sold. On Wednesday, they got good news.
  With family roots in Geneva that go back four generations, Laura Carlson Spencer, holding 2-month-old Vivian, and her mother, Dody Carlson, look though old family photos. An heirloom collection of antique political campaign buttons accidentally was donated to Goodwill and sold. On Wednesday, they got good news. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

"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."

Laura Carlson Spencer, with 2-month-old daughter Vivian, looks through four generations of photographs and memorabilia from her family with deep roots in Geneva. Three shadow boxes of her grandparents' antique political campaign buttons accidentally were donated to Goodwill and sold. On Wednesday, buyer Frank Mazza brought them back.
  Laura Carlson Spencer, with 2-month-old daughter Vivian, looks through four generations of photographs and memorabilia from her family with deep roots in Geneva. Three shadow boxes of her grandparents' antique political campaign buttons accidentally were donated to Goodwill and sold. On Wednesday, buyer Frank Mazza brought them back. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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."

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.