Camp Lake man reunites family with artifacts found in gun safe

Don and Genie Mermal with Ricky Sheehan, who is holding the flags found in the gun safe Ricky's father bought in Racine.

Don and Genie Mermal with Ricky Sheehan, who is holding the flags found in the gun safe Ricky’s father bought in Racine.

When Rick Sheehan brought a used gun safe he had bought home to Camp Lake he thought he was getting a good deal.

Instead, he found a safe full of memories of a man he knew nothing about and who he would spend weeks trying to track down.

Sheehan purchased the gun safe though an online ad. He picked it up in Racine.

“I assumed it was empty,” Sheehan said.

When he and his sons moved it from his truck, however, it was apparent that it wasn’t empty.

The person who sold the safe to Sheehan did not have the lock combination. So Sheehan cut a hole in the back in order to access the lock mechanism to open the door.

Inside, Sheehan found numerous documents and other items relating to the late Leonard Kitzki.

“We spent a couple of hours going through it,” Sheehan said. “There were a lot of things in there you wouldn’t want to throw away.” That included military records, bank statements and identification.

But what really got Sheehan’s attention were two American flags. One flag was large and folded as if it had been presented at a veteran’s funeral. The other was stored in a plastic bag.

“That was the thing that made me want to find the family,” Sheehan said of the flags.

Sheehan hung the flags in his garage to dry them out. Eventually Sheehan’s youngest children Ricky and Abigail, both Scouts, refolded the flags properly. And that was when Sheehan decided he wanted to try to find Kitzki’s family and see if they wanted the items.

Sheehan asked around for anyone who might know how to track down Kitzki relatives. But it was some diligent searching on the internet that led Sheehan to Don and Genie Mermal of Rochester. Don is Leonard’s nephew, the son of his sister.

Sheehan said he called the Mermal home and reached Genie. By sharing some specific info from the items he found in the safe he was able to gain Genie’s confidence that he was sincere. The Mermals came to meet Sheehan at his business, Reliable Heating & Air Conditioning (a sponsor) so they could take possession of the flags and few other of the more significant mementos of Kitzki’s life.

“I think it was just fantastic that you went through all that work,” Don Mermal told Sheehan that day.

“We really appreciate it,” Genie added.

Sheehan said it was worth the time he spent drying out items and then searching for Leonard Kitzki’s relatives.

“Here’s someone that served our country …” Sheehan said of Kitzki. “If the tables were turned, I would want someone to do it for me.”

The gun safe Rick Sheehan bought.

The gun safe Rick Sheehan bought.



  1. Lori Jeltema says:

    I’ve known Ricky Sheehan and the Sheehan family since middle school. It doesn’t surprise me that he would go to such lengths to find the owners of this special property.

  2. Joyce Slatner says:

    Cool story. A great treasure hunt for the family.

  3. Tim Popanda says:

    I agree with Lori Jeltema, Rick and his family are good people.

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