Lorenzo Jones lost nearly everything when flames engulfed the historic Watcher Building in Toledo’s UpTown neighborhood in June, rendering his apartment uninhabitable and burning up his prized Scott High School Bulldogs sweatshirts, T-shirts, and jackets.
On Thursday the lifelong Bulldogs fan and Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center cafeteria cook was finishing up another lunchtime rush when he was approached by a group of Toledo Public Schools officials and Mercy administrators.
TPS Superintendent Romules Durant stretched out his hand and introduced himself.
“I know who you are,” Mr. Jones, 60, said as he shook the superintendent’s hand.
But what he did not know was what Mr. Durant and the others were doing there. They surprised Mr. Jones with a Bulldogs care package: a brand new pullover with the high school’s logo, a draw-string bag, and season tickets to Scott High School’s athletic events, among other things.
“I’m in shock,” Mr. Jones said after he received the package. “I’m happy.”
Mr. Jones, 60, graduated from Scott in 1976 after completing the last half-credit he lacked to graduate with his peers in ’75. He played football and ran track when he was a student, and he is now involved in his alma mater’s booster organization.
The Toledo native described himself as a “die-hard Bulldog.”
Mercy Health Economic Development Director Tom Kroma saw Mr. Jones on the evening news the day the Wachter Building burned. He recognized Mr. Jones as a member of the Mercy team.
“The interview that really sat with me was [Mr. Jones] said that nobody got hurt, and we can replace our stuff,” Mr. Kroma said. “It was very genuine. He’s just a compassionate, caring guy.”
Mr. Kroma reached out to Mr. Jones, who has worked at St. Vincent for a decade, to help him recover from the fire. He helped him file a claim with his renter’s insurance and made sure he had the clothes he needed for work.
But he wanted to do more, so he looked into replacing Mr. Jones’ beloved Bulldogs memorabilia. That’s when TPS folks offered to help plan a surprise.
“It’s always a great feeling when members of the community all come together to do an act of kindness for somebody who has shown a compassionate heart for others,” Mr. Durant said. “Mr. Jones wasn’t looking for anything from anyone, and during an interview he had expressed his appreciation that no lives were lost during the fire that had taken everything from him.”
Mr. Durant said it is important to show appreciation for TPS alumni who are role models for students. He was glad to help rebuild Mr. Jones’ collection of TPS spirit wear.
“A lot of the memorabilia are things you held on to all of these years, and to lose them... things can be replaced, but there is sentimental value that you lose,” he said. “Here’s a new wave of sentimental value that when he touches this shirt he’ll remember that his act of kindness created another act of kindness.”
Mr. Jones on Thursday reiterated his relief that all the Wachter Building tenants escaped the fire. He had lived there for 17 years and got to know many of the residents through his side-job tending to the historic building’s grounds. He said everyone who lived there looked out for one another.
Julie Champa, executive director of the UpTown Association, said she believes all who were displaced by that fire have found new housing, though the burnt building on 16th Street still serves as a reminder of the fire.
Mr. Jones still remembers receiving a phone call about the fire while at work at St. Vincent, stepping outside, and smelling the billowing smoke.
Now, with high school football season underway, Mr. Jones will wear his new Bulldog gear with pride all season long.
“I’m doing real good,” he said. “Everything is coming together. I’m blessed.”