You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Man finds a family treasure hidden behind walls of a construction site

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/05/2017 Capi Lynn

SALEM, OR - No blueprint could have prepared Clint Lamkey for what he found in the SAIF Corp. building under renovation on High Street SE.

He was working on the layout of the second floor, measuring and marking where the walls will go, when he looked up at the otherwise bare concrete wall and saw the foot-high initials M.L. written with glue that was used to hang sheetrock.

Something about the curlicue before the first arch of the M and the small rounded loops of the L looked remarkably familiar. His late father had those same initials.

He snapped a photo with his cell phone and texted it to his mother. Neither professes to be a handwriting expert, but the nuances of the two letters were so recognizable.

© Provided by USA Today

“It’s him alright,” mom Jo Lamkey replied, attaching a copy of a bank statement with her husband’s signature to compare. “Look how he made his M and his L.”

Clint knew his father worked in construction but had no idea he had worked on the same SAIF building, which was built in 1974. It has been gutted to make seismic, electrical and plumbing upgrades and to integrate flood protection measures because of its proximity to Pringle Creek, and is scheduled to be completed in April 2018.

As Clint worked his way through the 185,000-square-foot building and up to the fifth floor, he made a second discovery. There, on another concrete wall, in giant cursive writing, was his father’s name, Melvin Lamkey. Same M. Same L.

Clint is proud to be a carpenter, just like his dad, but a revelation like this gives new meaning to the cliché "following in his father’s footsteps."

Maybe it was fate. How else do you explain it? What were the chances of him doing construction work on the same building, more than four decades later, let alone seeing the initials and signature before they were once again covered with sheetrock?

Besides, 100 or so construction workers are on the site any given day, and he isn’t the only carpenter working on the project.

“I should’ve went and bought a lottery ticket or something,” Clint Lamkey said.

Consider also that he only recently began working for Mid-Valley Commercial Construction, one of the subcontractors on the SAIF project. He had been with his previous company for 26 years.

“This kind of justified and solidified my choice to move,” Clint said. “I would never have found them.”

The father-son connection with the initials and signature has created a buzz among the crew at the construction site and among employees at SAIF, Oregon's not-for-profit, state-chartered workers' compensation insurance company. I'm told the Lamkey story was one of the most-read stories on the company intranet.

It isn’t uncommon during the renovation of an old building or house to find history hidden behind walls or under floors. Homeowners often find mementos left behind by previous residents when remodeling.

Construction workers at commercial sites sometimes draw smiley faces on walls or sign their names on framing, knowing it will be covered up and perhaps not be seen for decades, if ever. “Casey was here,” for example, is written in black on a strip of recently added metal framing not far from Melvin Lamkey’s initials.

Only once has Clint Lamkey left his mark at a job site in 28 years. Actually, another crew member did it for him. Clint was pushing a heavy cart when a wheel broke off and the cart smacked him against a wall. Near that spot on the wall, his buddy wrote: “Clint Lamkey cracked his ribs here.”

“I kept working,” Lamkey said, no doubt a chip off the old block.

Melvin Lamke, Mel to family and friends, was known as a hard worker and a tough son of a gun. He once went from his job site to chemotherapy appointments and then back to the job site for several months before his doctor found out and put the kibosh on it.

“You could set your clock by him,” said Jo Lamkey, his wife and Clint’s mom. “He was one of those guys who went to work, hardly ever missed a day and was always on time.”

Clint is the youngest of their five children and the only one born in Oregon after they moved the family here in 1966. He was raised on a 10-acre farm in southeast Salem and graduated from North Salem High School in 1986.

Melvin Lamkey, an avid fisherman and hunter, died in 2015. His son, Clint Lamkey, is a carpenter just like he was. (Photo: Special to the Statesman Journal)

Melvin Lamkey, an avid fisherman and hunter, died in 2015. He was 79. Clint said he was able to spend the last five days with his dad, holding his hand when he passed.

Finding a preserved link to their shared profession — even if it is something that will once again be concealed — has been such a treasure to him and his family.

His sister, Deanna Holbrook, visited the site and painted in red above their dad’s signature his dates of birth and death. Clint added his name to the very top.

The only thing that could have made the discovery more memorable is if Mel Lamkey would have been alive to share his side of the story. To hear his wife tell it, the autographs on the wall seem a bit out of character for him, although there's no doubt in her mind they were done by his hand.

"I just never pictured him defacing anything, let alone with his initials and name," Jo Lamkey said. "But he would have got a big kick out of this. He always had a smirky grin on his face when he got caught doing something. I can see him now with that smirky grin saying, 'You caught me.' "

For more inspiring stories, LIKE the Humankind Facebook page.

More From USA TODAY

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon