About 15 years ago, Diane Lawrence was on a summer road trip near Boise, Idaho. She saw an old-school garage sale on the side of the freeway, and Lawrence is a “I brake for flea sales” gal, bumper sticker not included.
“You always hit the jackpot with something, and the first thing I look for is old, metal lunch boxes,” she said.
A retired mortgage broker in Orange County, California, Lawrence was collecting different vintage items for years: teacups, Western gear and most recently lunch kits.
At that small market she was able to find two kits, one she sold shortly after. The other, a 1974 Yogi Bear container, led her to Renton.
Through the 1970s metal lunchbox, Lawrence connected with a man who’s lived in this area since elementary school.
She recently pulled out the Yogi Bear pail from Idaho to sell it on eBay. Lawrence has been slowly selling her collection. Flipping the container over, she noticed a tag. It surprised her, and you could barely make out the words:
This Kit is property of:
Grade 4 Rm.
Lawrence had seen a first and last name before, but never a school included. She figured she’d try to find them. She tried “Kent” and “Brent” for the first name that’s slightly smudged out.
A Google search quickly brought up a name and contact info. Through email, she was able to connect with the — ent Sytsma, actually Brent Sytsma, who still holds Renton and Hazelwood Elementary near and dear.
“I laughed. It was just classic, you know, your mom puts a name in your lunchbox. It’s funny it survived all these years,” Sytsma said of the email.
He forwarded the email to his mom and siblings and it started a conversation of childhood memories. Growing up where he did, walking a mile to school, a ruggedness to childhood that his own kids didn’t grow up with.
Sytsma’s whole family went to Hazelwood, and he often leads soccer practices there as an adult.
He has fuzzy memories of the Yogi Bear pail, he’s not sure if he was a big fan, or what happened to it. There’s a good chance it was passed down to one of his younger siblings.
Sytsma remembers much clearer the Six Million Dollar Man pail he got for the next school year.
“I thought it was a needle in a haystack, a one in a million shot that I would even find this guy,” Lawrence said. “In a state I’d never even been to before, how did this lunchbox end up with me in California? How did it even get to Idaho?”
Collectibles have a habit of traveling through flea market circuits, ending up states away.
Collectibles expert Harry Rinker, from Michigan, said it’s not at all unusual for someone to pick up an antique in one state, and take it with them as they go through different flea markets.
“It’s not uncommon for a lunchbox to travel hundreds of thousands of miles depending on who’s interested,” Rinker said.
Lawrence said these items really travel, too. She’s sold vintage Disney containers for over $100.
While Lawrence said she might sell the Yogi Bear pail for $65 to $80 on eBay, Rinker insisted that she might be able to get $25 for it at most. The box is not a full lunch kit, Rinker said, which includes a glass thermos. The design is also common, he said.
Lunch boxes aren’t the kind of thing you can refurbish, so wear and tear won’t help with selling. Lawrence noticed after talking to Sytsma that the name Brent was slightly carved into the chalkboard illustration on the back of the pail.
Lawrence said her set is in the same nostalgic vain as baby boomers collecting old toys from their childhood. She wants lunch boxes because they were the highlight of the school year: at the beginning of the year you would re-brand with new clothes and a new sandwich container.
Lawrence has about 10 left in her collection. She will probably sell Sytsma’s, but also thinks it’s a great conversation piece, with a nice memory attached now.