By Sue Botos
When Rocky River resident Tom Bobst saw the e-mail from an Illinois woman requesting information about his late father, Paul, he thought it was just another Internet con.
“At first I thought it was a scam, but then I thought, it doesn’t hurt to send an e-mail back,” said Bobst, an optometrist and husband of Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst. What he got in return was a priceless family heirloom.
Just in time for Veterans Day, Bobst received, via overnight express, a World War II-era canteen, inscribed with his father’s name, Paul E. Bobst, hometown of Mount Vernon, Ohio, Army training camp Fort Blanding (Florida) and a date of May 20, 1944.
“This is so special because the only things we have of Tom’s dad’s are baby shoes and some photos,” said Pam Bobst, adding that her father-in-law had passed away in 1979 of a heart attack.
What makes the story even more compelling is that it was 50 years in the making.
Tom Bobst said that the woman, Debbie Dondlinger, told him via e-mail that when she was helping her 88-year-old grandfather clean out his garage before he and her grandmother moved to a retirement community, they happened upon the old canteen. “She said her grandfather bought it 50 years ago at an Army-Navy surplus store,” recalled Bobst. The canteen, according to Dondlinger, along with other equipment, was purchased for the boys in the family to use during Boy Scout campouts.
“Her grandfather was never one to hang onto things, but for some reason, something told him to keep this canteen,” recalled Bobst. Since he was downsizing, Dondlinger said they decided to part with the canteen, and removed a covering, revealing the inscription, which was probably done by the elder Bobst himself.
“When they saw the words ‘Paul E. Bobst; Ft. Blanding,’ she started the quest to find the family,” Bobst stated. He added that the canteen is in excellent condition.
The search was made a bit easier due to the fact that Bobst has constructed quite a detailed family tree on the genealogy website Ancestry.com. It was here that Dondlinger discovered what she thought was the connection, and sent Bobst an e-mail asking if he was any relation to Paul Bobst. “She said that her grandfather was not interested in selling the canteen, but only in getting it back to the family,” he recalled.
“This is very special to us,” said the younger Bobst, adding that the heirloom will be proudly displayed in the Bobst home.
“Can you imagine these people taking time to return this to us?” asked Pam Bobst. Of Dondlinger, she added, “She has no idea what a gift this is.”