Bill Munda has never met Dalene Syndergaard of Erda, Utah, and probably never will. But the two strangers who live more than 2,000 miles apart were recently brought together by what Syndergaard describes as "an act of fate." Munda, who retired from AT&T in 1989, works part time at Winn-Dixie to save up for vacations with his wife, Betty, 52. After three years the couple finally had enough for a sightseeing trip to Utah. "We decided to visit Arches and the other national parks," said Munda, 76. Only a few days into their trip, the couple experienced every traveler's nightmare.
After they left a restaurant, Munda placed his wallet in his lap while arranging some cups in the car. Then he drove off, forgetting his wallet was still in his lap. Later, when he got out of the car near Richfield to take a picture of the mountains that hem the Fishlake National Forest, his wallet tumbled onto the ground.
It wasn't until the couple arrived at their motel that Munda realized his wallet — containing more than $300 and several credit cards — was gone.
The couple drove back to the restaurant and retraced their steps. Nothing.
"We asked a cop we saw along the way if anyone had turned in a wallet," Munda said, "and he said, 'If you lost your wallet in this town, you'll get it back.' I was thinking to myself, 'Yeah, right.' "
The couple canceled the credit cards and continued their vacation, but the missing wallet remained on Munda's mind. Two weeks later, when Bill and Betty returned to their Holiday home, there was a letter from Utah waiting for them.
"I said to my wife, 'Who do we know in Utah?' We thought it was someone we'd met along the way."
To their surprise, the letter was from a total stranger — and to their delight, this stranger had found Munda's wallet on the Utah highway where he'd lost it.
"I had tears in my eyes," Munda said.
The letter was written by Dalene Syndergaard, 60, who explained that she and her husband, Jerry, 59, had found the wallet and wanted to return it.
"We went on a fishing trip and on the way home, my husband thought he saw a rope hanging off the boat," Syndergaard said in a phone interview. "We pulled off to check the boat and next thing I know, my husband says, 'Hey, look what I found.' "
The strange thing: There was nothing wrong with the Syndergaards' boat.
"There was no reason for us to have ever stopped there," said Syndergaard, who lives on the southern cusp of the Great Salt Lake, about 200 miles away from the spot where the wallet was lost and found.
The Syndergaards, who are both retired from Dugway Proving Ground, a U.S. Army facility, tried to get in touch with Munda by calling a number on his business card (the area code had been changed and the number no longer worked) and even searching the Internet for his contact information. When that failed, they sent a letter to the address on Munda's driver's license.
Several days went by and finally Syndergaard got a call from Bill Munda. "He told me his heart started racing when he opened my letter!" she said.
Syndergaard then sent the wallet overnight in the mail and Munda had it the next day. She refused to accept a reward.
"I was just happy to get it back to him," she said.
She hopes the experience will serve as a lesson to her young grandchildren, who were with her and her husband when they found Munda's wallet.
"They said, 'Oh, we should keep it,' " she said with a laugh. "Now I can tell them how happy he was to get it back."
Bill Munda sees his wallet's return as good karma.
"I feel like I've been a pretty good person," he said. "And it shows me there's still honest people out there."