Pat Gegg thought he had lost everything when Hurricane Irma took his cottage on Ponte Vedra Beach, southeast of Jacksonville, Fla.
Especially painful was the loss of a Rubbermaid tub containing a number of irreplaceable Scouting items. There was his merit badge sash and Order of the Arrow sash. His dad’s Boy Scout uniform shirt from the 1950s. His own Cub Scout uniform shirt.
“There were so many things I wasn’t ready to part with in that small Rubbermaid,” Gegg told me by phone today.
Miraculously, there’s a silver lining here. The Cub Scout shirt, thought to have been lost forever to the Atlantic Ocean, has been found. It’s now on its way back to Gegg.
A Bryan on Scouting reader identified the shirt and contacted me to share the good news. Here’s how it went down.
A lightbulb moment
Gegg, who grew up in St. Joseph, Ill., is now stationed in Jacksonville where he’s a commander in the U.S. Navy. After the storm, Gegg was lamenting the loss of his family’s beach cottage with a fellow active-duty officer in the U.S. Navy, Matt Pottenburgh.
“We were talking in the office,” Pottenburgh said. “The very first thing he said to me was, ‘I lost my Boy Scout merit badge sash.’”
On Thursday, Pottenburgh, a volunteer Scout leader with two Eagle Scout sons and one First Class Scout, read my blog post about the uniform that had washed ashore in Jacksonville.
A lightbulb flared. The shirt belonged to an Illinois Cub Scout. Gegg hadn’t mentioned a missing Cub Scout shirt to Pottenburgh, but Pottenburgh knew Gegg was a Cub Scout in Illinois. Could the shirt belong to his friend?
Pottenburgh immediately called Gegg and showed him the blog post.
“Once I saw the Arrowhead Council and I saw the Parvuli Dei [Catholic religious emblem], I said, ‘that’s mine,’” Gegg said.
Pottenburgh was elated.
“He said, ‘that’s my Cub Scout shirt,’” Pottenburgh said. “It’s only one item of a bunch that he lost, but he’s in tears right now. He is blown away.”
“I would have the exact same sentiment,” Pottenburgh continued. “You can’t replace that stuff, so the fact that this guy found it, it’s an incredible story.”
A silver lining
Gegg said he and his wife are still in shock after losing so many priceless items. But getting his Cub Scout uniform back will be a big step in the healing process.
“Finding something like that is really special for us,” he said. “I’m so grateful that you posted the blog, and people responded, and eventually it’s going to reach me.”
Nikki Presley and her Eagle Scout husband, Dustin, found the uniform while helping clean storm debris from a beach in Jacksonville. Next up, the Presleys will make sure that Gegg gets this priceless piece of his past back in his hands.
Nikki Presley told me by email that she’s been interviewed by a Chicago TV station about her find. But she’s not looking for fame. She’s only happy to have found the uniform’s owner.
“Thank you for putting all this out there!” she said.
The story was covered Thursday night on the CBS Chicago affiliate.