Do you know Woodrow Wilson Jr.?
He might be living on the streets of Chicago. It’s a thought that bothers Chris Mathis, the owner of a pawn shop in Junction City, Kansas, where word of this city’s notoriously brutal winter weather has spread.
Mathis thinks he might be able to help Wilson, a U.S. Army veteran, find a warmer place to stay — if only he could track him down.
As a 21-year-old stationed at Fort Riley in 1980, Wilson apparently picked up some pocket money by pawning nine $100 U.S. savings bonds at Jack & Dick’s Pawn Shop, about 115 miles north of Wichita.
The bonds sat in a drawer at the pawn shop for the better part of three decades. Mathis took over the family business in 1991, and he uncovered them along with dozens of others while cleaning up shop about five years ago.
Now fully matured, Wilson’s bonds are worth more than $3,000. And Mathis has spent more than a year trying to get them back to him.
With the help of a private investigator, Mathis has nailed down a handful of clues about Wilson: He’s about 58 and African-American, he used to live in the Austin neighborhood and west suburban Maywood, and now, he likely is homeless.
As Christmas rolled around, Mathis got to thinking about Wilson again — and he started keeping up with Chicago’s weather forecasts. Wind chills have plunged below zero during the latest deep freeze.
“It’s been so cold lately,” Mathis says. “This can help get him off the street.”
The bonds list Rubbie Mae Wilson — probably Wilson’s mother, Mathis says — as a beneficiary. Public records indicate his parents, who used to live near Washington Boulevard and Pine Avenue, have died.
Since Wilson signed the bonds over to the pawn shop 37 years ago, Mathis could cash them in for himself, along with the dozens of others that piled up over the years.
But he says it’s more fun to return the notes to their long-parted former owners.
“I’ve done this so many times, and the guys just can’t believe that we still have them,” Mathis says. “It’s so much more fun to get that reaction.”
He has returned bonds to more than 50 people so far, and well over a hundred remain. Most belong to former servicemen in Kansas, while others are spread across the country.
“This one has proven so elusive,” Mathis says.
Volunteers at two of Chicago’s largest emergency homeless shelters recognized Wilson’s name but haven’t able to connect him with Mathis, he says.
Chicago Police arrest records indicate a man by the same name and a corresponding age has been cited four times since 2014 for minor offenses, mostly panhandling. He was picked up three times near the Loop, most recently in April 2016, and once in the Lawndale neighborhood.
If that is the same Woodrow Wilson Jr. Mathis is looking for, he’s about 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds with gray hair, according to court records. He has been listed under various home addresses spanning the West Side.
“I really hate thinking about him being out there,” Mathis says. “I’m hoping this can help.”
Mathis can be reached at his pawn shop at (785) 238-6305, or jdpawn.com.