A Tennessee woman has been reunited with her wedding dress three months after a tornado wiped out her home and possessions.
Russell Repkie, 61, of Athens, returned the garment that was blown onto his property to Denise Ferguson, 53, on Saturday.
“He was definitely determined, that’s for sure,” Ferguson, also from Athens, told ABC News. “I’m just very thankful that he was willing to keep pushing to find the owner of the dress. If he hadn’t done that, he might have given up or given to Goodwill. I am thankful that he pushed to find me.”
In the early morning hours of Nov. 30, a tornado ripped through McMinn County where both Repkie and Ferguson were living.
Ferguson said she and her husband, Tim, had been sleeping as the storm hit. They suffered no serious injuries, but lost their home and belongings, as well as Ferguson’s 18-year-old wedding gown.
The dress had been stored in the attic of her detached garage, which was also taken by the tornado, she said.
“When the whole garage was gone, I just figured [the dress] was gone,” Ferguson said. “I loved the dress and I definitely didn’t want to get rid of it. I was disappointed, but at least we were OK. I kind of forgot about it and moved on.”
Repkie told ABC News that on Feb. 23, he and his wife were searching through debris on their 26 acres of land when they came across a gold box.
“You can imagine, on almost 26 acres, of how much debris I had all over my property,” Repkie said. “We were cleaning up and that’s when we spotted it. It was in a golden box and the sun was shining over it. I went over and picked it up and said, ‘There’s something in there.’ She [my wife] opened one end and said, ‘That’s a wedding dress.'”
Repkie said he then posted a photo in a Facebook group on which he was communicating with other tornado victims.
The post eventually reached Ferguson, who sent a picture from her July 24, 1999, wedding — proving she was the rightful owner of the dress.
Two days later, Repkie returned the gown in person.
Despite the two families living close by, Repkie and Ferguson did not know each other before Saturday, they said.
“We’re just happy we can give [it] back,” he said. “Something like that, it’s sentimental. You can’t put a price on it.”