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Ancient wallet found in walls of Rochelle theater

Contents DeKalb man's 90-year-old billfold shared will his relatives

ROCHELLE – Rick and Doris Kennay had the name of the man who had lost his wallet almost 90 years ago, but they didn’t have much else to go on.

The ancient billfold had belonged to a man named Roy Swanson, who lived in DeKalb at the time. The bi-fold wallet was found in March during the renovation of the old Hub Theater building, at 416 Lincoln Highway. The Kennays plan to open Kennay Farms Distilling in the building in 2019.

The Kennays decided to seek out Swanson’s relatives on Facebook.

“We didn’t know them at all,” Kennay said. “We just had the name, and we had to go from there.”

Swanson had been a construction worker and had dropped his wallet into one of the walls in the theater, said Aubrey Kennay, the marketing director of the distillery and daughter of the distillery’s owners. She said her family knew that they had to try to bring it back to his living family.

Eventually, Kennay said, they found a friend who knew some of Swanson’s relatives. On April 14, she said, her family met eight family members of Swanson’s – his daughters Jean Pumfrey and Sue Farris, three of his grandsons and two great-grandsons – at the old theater.

“They were all a super family,” Kennay said. “Just very pleasant, and we’re super happy they could have this memory.”

Kennay said her family learned that Swanson died in 1993 at age 85. She said she also learned that Swanson was a stone and brick mason for a long time and even delivered newspapers for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle as a kid.

Chad Farris, a Cherry Valley resident and grandson of Swanson, said the family went through the theater and saw the contents of the wallet, which included receipts for things bought in 1930. He said the Kennays offered the wallet to Swanson’s family to keep, but he said it would probably end up in a drawer somewhere if he or another relative took it with them after the visit.

The Kennay family plans to create a display for the wallet in the lobby of their new distillery. Farris said he’s eager to see what it will look like when he goes into the renovated building.

Farris, a construction worker for more than 20 years, said he figured that his grandfather was about 20 years old when he lost the wallet. He said he was a little bit younger than 20 years old when he first got into construction, and he said he even used the tools that he inherited from his grandfather for his own construction projects.

“It’s just really cool how everything ties together,” Farris said.

Farris said he also has found artifacts in the walls of buildings he’s working on – such as old milk cartons, lunch bags and even a wooden fork – but nothing that compares to the Kennays finding his grandfather’s wallet in a wall, he said. Farris said he also has left several pay stubs in the walls of construction projects over the years.

“Maybe someone will track me down in the future,” Farris said. “You never know.”

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