ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- A coin collector who lost his apartment to the fire that ravaged downtown Alexandria on Feb. 25 has been reunited with part of his collection.
Firefighters pulled several smoky three-ring binders of coins from the rubble and turned them over to the Alexandria Police Department, said Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow.
They were claimed by William Woodard, who collected the coins to finance his retirement. He had coins from 170 countries in binders alphabetized by country. Among those recovered were $84 in U.S. coins and a binder of “A” countries, including Australia, Austria and Aruba.
“The binder was shot, but the coins looked fine,” Woodard said.
Many, many other binders remain missing. They represented not just a fascination with coins, but his plans for the future.
“I don’t trust the government and I don’t trust banks and I thought I’d sell these off and have some retirement money,” said Woodard, who turns 50 soon.
The collection that was dearer to his heart, he said, were the rock concert T-shirts lost in the fire. He has turned down offers to replace those shirts, because there's no way to replace the ones he bought himself at the concerts he attended and wore to future concerts.
It’s not the first time he’s lost his belongings, he said, mainly because he had been a partier earlier in life. He said he came near death twice, once from alcohol poisoning and once when he got hit by a vehicle. More than eight years ago, he sobered up, he said — in fact, he’d written the number 3,004 down on his calendar the morning of the fire, to mark his 3,004th day of sobriety.
When he moved to Alexandria, he said he worked his way up from a studio apartment to the three-bedroom apartment he shared with a roommate above Raapers Eatery & Ale.
Karrow said firefighters first heard about the coins when a woman came up to them, said they belonged to a family member and asked if they could look for them.
Typically, firefighters don’t retrieve personal belongings because of liability issues, and because it’s against department policy, Karrow said. However, in this case, they happened to stumble across the binders and saved them.
“The moons and the stars aligned,” he said. “They didn’t have to put themselves at risk, they just happened to be there.”
Whether anything else can be salvaged from the fire site is now up to the business owners and their insurance companies, as the fire department turned over control of the site to them the day after the fire.
Woodard is working a temp job at Douglas Machine. He is grateful for the support of the community and for the assistance of a clerk at the Days Inn, where he stayed temporarily, who made sure he got to an AA meeting that first night.
He has since found a small apartment to live in and is not sure he will keep collecting coins or what else the future might hold.
“One day at a time,” he said.