Debra Newton was boarding a flight back home to Florida at JFK International Airport in December of 2009, when she noticed a thumb drive jetting across the floor in front of her. She had unwittingly kicked it. Newton didn’t think much of it at the time, but she picked it up and put it in her bag.
When she arrived in Florida, she asked someone at the gate what she should do. The attendant thought the thumb drive was broken because it had been mashed. Rather than tossing it out, Newton put it back in her bag and forgot about it until last month. When she popped the thumb drive into her computer, it was working perfectly well and was full of family photos that appeared to have been taken at a family reunion.
“Something came over me, and I thought what a novel idea it would be to try to find its actual owner,” says Newton.
She didn’t know how she would track down anyone in the photos or the person who lost the thumb drive. Newton’s cousin, though, recognized the Santa Clara logo on someone’s shirt and suggested she contact the University, prompting Newton to post a message on SCU’s website.
Communications Director Deepa Arora read Newton’s note and turned to social media for help. Arora posted the photo on SCU’s official Facebook page the following morning and also forwarded it to Carey Deangelis with the Alumni Association so she could do the same on Alumni’s Facebook page.
Not too far from SCU’s campus in San Jose, Dan Hunter had just returned to his office from lunch. When he logged into his Facebook account, he saw the posting:
“Do you know the man wearing the SCU t-shirt? A good Samaritan found a thumb drive with family reunion pictures at an airport in New York, and she wants to get it back to the owner. Is he an alum, a professor, a parent? Help us solve this mystery!’”
“I clicked on the photo and almost fell out of my chair laughing! It was Marty De Ruyter, who lived next door to me at Swig Hall!” says Hunter ’81. “I hit the comment button to identify him and then I tried looking for Marty on Facebook. I couldn’t find him so I sent him an e-mail.”
De Ruyter and Hunter have always kept in touch throughout the years at reunions, sent each other Christmas cards, and e-mailed each other from time to time.
De Ruyter, who now lives in Kansas, couldn’t believe the e-mail.
“The only time I’ve been at JFK was on February 10, 2010 when I was returning from a medical mission in Haiti following the earthquake disaster,” says De Ruyter, ’81. He said that he didn't know how a thumb drive could have ended up at the airport before his trip.
As if finding the person in the photo weren’t enough, Newton also discovered that up until six years ago she and De Ruyter both lived in the same county in Florida and that both work in the medical field—she as a nurse and he as an anesthesiologist.
“I don’t know if we ever ran into each other, but I wouldn’t be surprised if our paths crossed at one point or another,” says Newton. The discovery of De Ruyter drove Newton to joyous tears, happy she could help return the photos and thumb drive to their rightful owner.
As it turned out, the thumb drive actually belongs to another family member: Marty's sister, Marie De Ruyter '84, who was standing in the photo that Newton used to identify Marty as an SCU grad. Also, amazingly enough, Marie also lives in Jacksonville, FL, a few minutes away from Newton.
De Ruyter says the photos are from a family reunion that took place in the summer of 2008 during his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration at Lake Tahoe.
Nevertheless, he was fortunate enough to have been wearing his SCU shirt at the time; otherwise, tracking anyone down would have been impossible.
“I have a lot of Santa Clara t-shirts and wear them pretty frequently. In fact, I wore it to a hardware store in Kansas just six months ago, and someone stopped me because he, too, was an SCU grad,” laughed De Ruyter.
As for Hunter, he was hoping to see De Ruyter at their 30th reunion in October, but De Ruyter will be in the Dominican Republic for another medical mission that’s scheduled for the same weekend as the Grand Reunion.