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Howard Reese doesn't recall exactly when his van broke down.
What he does remember is the van was missing one day from the parking lot of a Taylor, Mich., business where he had left it. And missing with it was the small marble urn that housed his mother's ashes.
"I sort of put it back there so she could ride with me. It was in the back of the van so that everywhere I go, she's with me," said Mr. Reese, 68, of Detroit. "Everybody has their own reasons, and that was my reason," he said.
It was more than two years later, maybe closer to three, when an OmniSource employee was sifting through twisted metal and trash set to go into the shredder at the scrap and recycling yard on North Detroit Avenue in Toledo. Amid pieces of old cars and smashed refrigerators was a box with a name, dates, and religious cross etched into the marble sides.
It read, "In God's Care. Margaret Virginia Ward. 1925 - 2003."
"Everybody felt, 'How unfortunate to find somebody's mother laying in a scrap yard,'•" said Art Cheloff, plant manager. "It was upsetting for all of us because we knew she should be with some family member."
The employees researched online in an attempt to discover who
Margaret Ward was and whether she had relatives. After several months of no luck, the staff at OmniSource approached Toledo police.
Sgt. Joe Heffernan began making phone calls. After discovering Margaret Ward was a deceased Detroit resident, he tracked down her death certificate. He contacted the funeral home that had handled her arrangements, and was directed to Mr. Reese. "He was surprised because she had been gone for a couple of years. He just figured that it was gone," Sergeant Heffernan said of his first conversation with Mr. Reese: "…We're talking a lot of metal it was found in. How it survived is amazing."
Recently, in the expansive parking lot of Taylor's Meijer store, Mr. Reese tearfully received his mother's urn. After months of worry and eventual resignation that he never again would see the urn, he took it into his hands and knew just what he was going to do.
"We took her to the Canada bridge and dumped her ashes out," Mr. Reese said late last week. He explained that his mother had asked before she died to have her remains spread in the river near the Ambassador Bridge.
Mr. Reese, his daughter, and his grandchildren gathered at a park near the bridge to fulfill his mother's wish.
"I feel much better," he said. "Now she's going to rest."
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