A SUNY New Paltz student and two of his recently-graduated roommates got a real-life ethics test this March, when they bought an old couch for $20 -- and found $40,000 in cash stuffed into the cushions.
The Little Rebellion, a student publication at SUNY New Paltz, recounts the tale of how third-year geology student Reese Werkhoven, recent New Paltz grad Lara Russo and Mount Holyoke grad Cally Guasti discovered that the grubby, smelly old couch they'd just brought home from the Salvation Army was stuffed with envelopes of twenty-dollar bills.
Werkhoven told Little Rebellion reporter Hobie Ramin that the find was about $39,999.50 more than he'd ever found in a couch before:
“The most money I’d ever found in a couch was like fifty cents. Honestly, I’d be ecstatic to find just $5 in a couch.”
Then they found something else: A woman's name, scrawled on one of the envelopes.
Faced with a moral dilemma, the three roommates sought expert advice: All of them called their parents.
The three had moments of doubt and temptation, but in the end, they decided to return the money to the woman -- and were glad they did, Ramin writes. Turns out the woman had been stuffing her life savings into the couch for 30 years:
Her husband had had a heart condition and knew his time was limited. Before he died, he gave her money each week to put away for when he passed. For 30 years she stored her savings inside an old couch in the television room where she slept. When her husband passed away, she remained working as a florist and continued to store her money in the couch, until she had an operation on her back and went to a rehabilitation center for several months.
Upon the woman’s doctor’s advice, the woman’s daughter and son-in-law replaced the couch she used to sleep on with a full-size bed.
The couch ended up at the Salvation Army store in New Paltz and was bought for $20 by three genuinely good young people who had the strength and wherewithal to make a commendable moral decision.
Ethics 101: Aced.