Reese Werkhoven, Cally Guasti and Lara Russo were living on a tight budget, so they did what most college students do and filled their apartment with nothing but second hand furniture. They were thrilled to find a couch for only $20. Like most $20 couches, it wasn’t very comfortable. While investigating the lumpy cushions, the college kids stumbled upon a hidden fortune.
“It had these bubble wrap envelopes, just like two or three of them,” Werkhoven said in an interview. “We ripped them out and [I] was just like freaking out, like an inch and a half of $100 bills.” They were screaming with joy, until they found a bank statement mixed in with the money. Knowing the name of the money’s true owner reminded them all that they didn’t earn their sudden fortune, and someone else must be devastated.
With heavy hearts but clear consciences, the young adults agreed there was no option other than giving the money back. “We had a lot of moral discussions about the money,” Russo said in an interview. “We all agreed that we had to bring the money back to whoever it belonged to. It’s their money — we didn’t earn it. However, there were a lot of gray areas we had to consider.”
Eventually the trio tracked down the 91-year-old original owner who had never trusted banks and kept her life savings hidden in her sleeper sofa. She slept on her nest egg every night, but after a hip surgery she lost the couch when her daughter sold it and replaced it with a proper bed. When the college students found her run-down home, they knew they were making the right decision.
“This was her life savings and she actually said something really beautiful, like ‘This is my husband looking down on me and this was supposed to happen,’” Guasti said.
The old woman greeted the trio at the door with her daughter and granddaughter. She gave $1,000 back to the students to thank them for their good deed.
When asked if she regretted giving up the money, Guasti said, “At the end of the day, it wasn’t ours. I think if any of us had used it, it would have felt really wrong.”