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BOUNTIFUL — He hit the mother lode, but not once did Josh Ferrin even think of laying claim on the more than $45,000 cash that he found in his garage.
In fact, he gave it all back.
"You can't make plans for money like this that's found in a situation like this," Ferrin said. "It just doesn't feel right to do anything but give it back."
Within an hour of closing on his first home, Josh Ferrin, an artist for the Deseret News, used the keys to take his first official look inside.
You can't make plans for money like this that's found in a situation like this. It just doesn't feel right to do anything but give it back." -Josh Ferrin, Bountiful homeowner
While taking it all in, he noticed a tiny scrap of carpet peeking out of a small door in the ceiling of a workshop at the back of the garage. He got a ladder and climbed up to explore the unseen space. It was dark and musty, but Ferrin could see a black metal box sitting there.
It was a heavy metal box — the kind used to haul ammunition during World War II — and it was filled with cash, old stamps, bond certificates and other random memorabilia.
"I immediately closed it, locked it in my truck and called my wife. 'You won't believe what I just found,'" he said. Tara Ferrin immediately knew the couple had to return the money to its rightful owners.
However, Arnold Bangerter, the former homeowner, passed away in November 2010 and his youngest son, Dennis Bangerter, the executor of Bangerter's estate, had just signed the 1950s red-brick rambler away.
"When we were thinking about selling the house, I thought that now was a good time and we needed to get it ready," he said. "I had the feeling that it could be hard, but if the right family came along, it would sell quickly."
He said he knew the Ferrins were "a good family" from the moment he met them. Dennis Bangerter said he wished they could have met his father.
"Going through those boxes, I felt like I had a peek into his life," Josh Ferrin said about the man who left the surprising find. "This is a beautiful outcome and it feels good to be a part of it. It's a rare opportunity to be able to do something extraordinarily honest."
Arnold Bangerter, an fisheries biologist for the former Utah Department of Fish and Game, had purchased the home in 1966 and lived there with his wife, who died in 2005.
The Ferrins felt right about buying the home from the moment they walked inside, and a giant sequoia redwood tree in the backyard sealed the deal. Little did they know they'd be getting so much more.
"It's a story that will outlast our generation and probably yours as well," Kay Bangerter, the oldest of the Bangerter's six children, said Wednesday. He wasn't all that surprised at the money, as he had previously found cash taped to the bottom of a chest of drawers left in his father's home, albeit in much smaller amounts.
"He grew up in hard times and people that survived that era didn't have anything when they came out of it unless they saved it themselves," he said. "He was a saver, not a spender."
No one knows when Arnold Bangerter started stashing the cash, but the bills and coins found in the garage are dated back to the 1970s and 1980s.
One-, five-, 10- and 20-dollar bills had been meticulously coiled in bundles of hundreds and five-hundreds. Nearly every roll was wrapped with a tiny bit of twine. Ferrin hauled eight ammo boxes out of the crawl space. The boxes also contained a plastic bag of large bullets and a hand-written note that reads: "I was born on a lousy day."
It took at least three hours for the Ferrins to sort and count the new-found cash, all the while teaching a lesson of honesty to their two young sons, who wanted to keep "just one" of the bundles and kept trying to slip coins into their pockets.
"The house needs some work," Josh Ferrin said. "I could use the $45,000 for remodeling, but he didn't save that money for us. He saved it for his family."
Josh Ferrin said he "felt guided" to the house, which was one of at least two others they considered buying in the area. He also felt guided to that money.
They'll be fixing up the home before they officially move in and in the meantime, life will go on just as it did before discovering a small fortune.
"I never considered the money mine," Josh Ferrin said. "You can't allow yourself to think like that."