Manitoba

'A feel-good moment': Charity worker reunites family with WWII heirlooms

After a homeless man found a bundle of World War II documents in the pocket of a donated jacket, Rob Nykoluk took it upon himself to find the living relatives of the veteran.

Rob Nykoluk used social media to track down late veteran’s niece after mementos discovered

Rob Nykoluk connected with the family of a late World War II veteran after discovering a bundle of documents from the war in a coat donated to charity. 2:30

It's something Rob Nykoluk likes to do every year when the weather turns cold — hand out warm, gently used jackets to Winnipeg's homeless with his mission group. But this year, something different happened.

On Sunday, a man who had received one of the coats returned with an unusual bundle of papers in his hand.

"This gentleman, a homeless man … handed me these documents," said Nykoluk.

Jewell's service and pay book from World War II. (Facebook)

They included a World War II soldier's service and pay book along with photographs and discharge papers for a veteran named, George Jewell, born more than a century ago on Feb. 6, 1915.

"It had a look and feel of something that's fairly old … It just felt important," he said.

Nykoluk said he immediately recognized the mementos would be important to any of Jewell's relatives.

"I thought that was kind of neat that he didn't just dismiss it out of hand," he said. "A feel-good moment."

A baby photo of George Jewell found tucked away in his service and pay book. (CBC)

Nykoluk, who handles social media for Gifts of Grace Street Mission, took to Facebook to ask if anyone could help connect the papers with one of Jewell's descendants.

"As it turns out, one of the ladies from a personal care home saw this and said, 'This gentleman was one of our patrons.'"

'Just a win, win, win'

The woman, an employee at River East Personal Care Home, connected Nykoluk with Jewell's niece-in-law, Lynda Peterson who had handled her uncle's affairs until he died in August at 101 years old.

The jacket which had contained the papers, was donated to charity along with all his other clothes.  

George Jewell's discharge papers. (Facebook)

Peterson said she completely surprised by the discovery and had never seen the World War II documents before.

"I was just amazed," she said.

The homeless man who recognized the value of the papers must have been a "nice, special person," she said.

Her uncle George, as she called him, never married and had no children. She remembers him as feisty and an avid fan of daily walks — even during Winnipeg winters.

He never boasted about his time serving in the army, she said, but was proud of his service record.

Peterson said she is in the process of contacting nieces and nephews to see if any of Jewell's blood relatives would like to hold onto the documents.

Nykoluk hopes the souvenirs add to the family's "storehouse of memories."

"This is just a win, win, win."

Rob Nykoluk said it was a feel good moment to reunite Jewell's family with his mementos from the Canadian Army. (CBC)

with files from Courtney Rutherford