For 30 years, a girl’s high school class ring waited where it had been lost, hidden under the seat of a 1979 convertible Volkswagen Beetle. Its discovery led to a reconnection that even the finest fiction writer would have a hard time concocting. But it’s all true. On Sunday, Stanya Gorraiz brought to fruition the surprise she’d been planning for the past three years. But here’s how this story began.
Forty years ago, Stanya’s father, Stan Pawlowski, bought a white 1979 convertible Volkswagen Beetle he spotted on the side of an Arizona highway. He purchased the car for his three teenaged daughters. The Bug was passed down to his youngest daughter, Stanya, and later sold to an owner in Florida when she went to college.
Three years ago, Stanya, a Telluride local of 14 years, received a call from her old high school near Phoenix, Arizona. Someone had found her 1991 class ring and was trying to return it to the original owner. Stanya contacted the ring’s finder, Doug Fitchett, who mailed the ring from Seattle, Washington, to Telluride.
“It’s so cool somebody would take the time when they find a class ring and try and reunite it with their owner, the story could just end there,” she said. “And the fact that Fitchett’s wife is a jeweler, and it had a missing stone and replaced it free of charge before she sent it back to me ... that just reminds you of human decency.”
When Stanya asked Fitchett where he found the ring, he told her he was restoring a “vintage car and found it in a crevice under one of the seats.” She asked what kind of car it was, and Fitchett told her, “It was a 1979 white VW convertible Bug.” The car he was restoring and planning to sell was the same car Stanya’s father had bought 40 years ago.
Fitchett, whose first car at 16 years old was a VW Beetle, said he “was just happy to be a part of the story.”
Stanya expressed her desire to buy the car to her husband, James, and her father. Both advised her not to purchase the vehicle. At the time, Stanya’s oldest daughter, Pippa, was 12 years old; in three years, she would turn 15 and need a car. Stanya decided to buy the VW Bug secretly. Over the course of three years, she sent monthly payments to Fitchett, and, two months ago, the car was paid for in full.
“It was tough to keep the secret. I couldn’t talk about it with my husband, with my parents, with my kids … I just had to make it to the finish line,” Stanya said.
Pawlowski wasn’t surprised.
“I thought it would be great to get the car back, but the weather in Telluride isn’t ideal for a Bug, but like most daughters, she doesn’t listen to her father, and she went and bought it anyway,” Pawlowski said.
When Stanya told James that she had bought the car and fully paid for it, he cried.
“We knew each other when I first drove the car,” Stanya said. “It meant something to him, too.”
James had installed the current stereo system in the car, which still works. Also, according to Pawlowski, the couple had their first date in the VW Bug.
When the time came to retrieve the car from Seattle, Stanya had to make up a story to keep the surprise under wraps.
“I told them that my dad was reuniting with a dental school friend for his birthday party, and he didn’t want to travel alone, so we were going to take him,” Stanya said. “My kids didn’t even question it for a second.”
Whenever they needed to discuss the car over the phone but didn’t want to spoil the secret, the family referred to the Bug as “Snow White.” The name has stuck.
On their way back from Seattle with Snow White literally in tow, Stanya said she bonded “with folks from all across the country who shared their car stories with us, and it made the trip even more special. One couple was so touched by the story of Snow White coming back to our family and the fun surprise for our daughter, Pippa, they gave us $10 in cash to give her for her first gas fill-up.”
For the past month, the car has been kept hidden in Montrose in Pawlowski’s garage. Pippa recently received her driver’s permit and pointed out VW Bugs she saw on the road.
“Pippa knows that I had a VW Bug, and she wanted one for herself,” Stanya said. “This is her dream car, which makes it even more special.”
On Sunday, the family celebrated Pippa’s 15th birthday outside of Steamies Burger Bar, the restaurant the Gorraizes own on Colorado Avenue. Here, in the middle of Telluride, the surprise that was 40 years in the making was revealed.
Just as Stanya’s older sister passed the VW Bug down to her, Pippa will pass the car to her younger sister when the time comes. In the meantime, when one of her children isn’t driving it, Stanya looks forward to driving her first car around Telluride, with the canvas top down and music blasting like when she was 16.
“There’s so much history that went into that car,” Pawlowski recalled. “It means so much to Stanya and the rest of her family that I am sure she will keep it forever.”