The shadowbox was nothing special, just a standard black frame you might buy in any craft store.
The sort of thing Jessica Shepard sees most days at her job sorting donations at the Bluffton Goodwill off Island West Park.
What was inside the shadowbox was special — five military medals, photographs of a man in uniform and his family, and other military and fire service memorabilia dating to World War II. They were meticulously pinned inside the box, which showcased multiple men’s service to their country and community.
“I didn’t really see who donated it but all the sudden I saw it on the table,” Shepard said.
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There was also a yellowed newspaper clipping of a 1988 Beaufort Gazette article about a man named Anthony Kollar. It was that piece of the shadowbox puzzle that helped Shepard solve the mystery and reunite the contents with their owner.
In black ink, written between the headline and the article, Shepard saw her mother’s name — Cathy Harley.
Shepard had a feeling the box was never meant to end up on a thrift store shelf and that its owner was probably missing it.
She was right.
“I was like, this doesn’t need to go to be sold,” Shepard said. “I talked to my manager about putting it to the side so I could talk to my mom and see if she remembered (Kollar) so we could try to get it back.”
Like most small towns, Bluffton and Beaufort are places where someone knows someone who knows someone else. Shepard and Harley, a former reporter for the Gazette, were counting on that being the case.
So they started asking around, making calls, and sending texts.
The fire service memorabilia lead Harley to Burton Fire District’s Capt. Dan Byrne.
“Do you know Anthony Kollar?,” she asked.
He didn’t recognize the name.
Harley texted him a photo of the box that had pictures of Kollar inside.
As soon as Byrne saw the photo it clicked.
It was Pastor Anthony, the chaplain from Byrne’s time at the City of Beaufort Fire Department. He hadn’t known the man’s last name.
Now, it was Byrne’s turn to make a round of calls, which led to a domino effect of more calls until one of them reached Kollar.
“I didn’t even know I was missing it,” Kollar said with a laugh in an interview this week with The Island Packet.
The shadowbox — something his daughter Kristen had made him more than a decade ago — had been hanging on a wall in his Beaufort home for years.
“One day I said, ‘You know what? It’s time to paint the wall,’” Kollar said.
When he took the shadowbox down, he put it on the floor. At some point, other things got piled on top of it.
Eventually that pile, including the shadowbox, ended up in a bin to take to Goodwill.
Kollar’s family relics — his father Frank’s World War II medals and U.S. Marine Corp graduation belt from the early ‘40s, a bowling pin his mother Patricia had given him, photographs in his U.S. Navy uniform, an article from his time as a volunteer firefighter — was on its way to be put up for sale on a thrift store shelf.
But Shepard, who didn’t know about her own loose connection to the box, saved it.
“That kind of wowed me,” Kollar said. “Only the providence of God could have done this. He connected all the dots.”
Now, the shadowbox is back in Kollar’s home and, soon, will be back on his wall.