Overlooked coins, mementos ‘tell’ Zippy’s story

When fantasizing about finding a hidden treasure, images of a wooden chest overflowing with gold and jewelry may come to mind.

For Gertrud Grundmann, the hidden treasure she discovered came in six cigar boxes and a cotton sack, all filled with 50.6 pounds of American coins — mainly pennies, dimes and nickels.

Last month, the U.S. Forces Liaison Office Baden-Württemberg helped Grundmann roll and exchange the coins after officials of the Baden-Württemberg State Parliament petitioned for their help, according to Sean Schulze, the acting U.S. Forces liaison officer.

USFLO serves as the liaison between the U.S. Forces and German state and federal agencies. Part of its mission is to support German partners with matters related to the U.S. Forces, according to Schulze.

The coins have a clear connection to the U.S. Forces: Grundmann’s father-in-law Günther, or “Zippy,” Grundmann worked as a waiter at the officers’ club on Wharton Barracks in Heilbronn from 1955 to 1983. Throughout his 28 years of service, he squirreled away his tip money.

Günther died in 1996. For 16 years, Zippy’s stash of coins sat in the basement of his home, undisturbed.   

After Günther’s wife Helena and his son Heinz died, Gertrud Grundmann, Heinz’ wife, started to clear out the basement.

She was confronted with boxes jam-packed with military insignias, books, photographs, German “Reichsmark,” and American coins. According to Grundmann, Günther was a passionate collector who also kept photographs, commanders’ coins and certificates of appreciation from his time with the U.S. Forces.

“He always felt very connected with the Americans and the military community here,” Grundmann said.

After finding the coins and wishing to have them exchanged, an odyssey began for Grundmann: She contacted the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, banks in the U.S., Army Community Service offices in Heidelberg and Stuttgart, and the petition committee Baden-Württemberg.

Finally, her letters were forwarded to USFLO.

Schulze, the acting liaison officer, and his colleagues teamed up with the Community Bank on Patch Barracks to roll, count and exchange the coins.

According to USFLO, it took four people over two hours to roll 7,889 coins totaling $1892.70. Among the collection were rare and valuable coins such as dimes with high silver content, $1 and $2 silver certificates from 1935, and war nickels from 1940-43. 

Grundmann was truly touched by the support and USFLO’s effort.

“It’s great to finally receive some help here in Stuttgart. I almost gave up my hopes in having the money exchanged,” Grundmann said.

She will now use the money to renovate her in-law’s house.