If you spot a dapper, extremely tall, bald man digging for change in the return slots of pay phones, parking meters, or newspaper racks around Moscow, Idaho, (pop. 19,905) dont be alarmed; its just Dr. Terry Armstrong collecting money for his university.
Armstrong is founding father of the University of Idahos Found Money Fund of Idaho (FUMFI), which he established 20 years ago after finding three pennies and stashing them away in an antique bottle on his desk.
Armstrong, then executive assistant to the University of Idahos president, decided to see how much money he could find in a year on his daily walk to campus. By summer break, his jar of three seed pennies contained $10.80.
When it overflowed with $44, Armstrong and Carol Yenni, the presidents secretary, jokingly decided to give the money to the university in a trust called the Found Money Fund of Idaho.
Word spread. The Associated Press picked up the story, and money began dribbling in from odd places.
The idea was to have this little pool of money growing for 100 years as a bicentennial birthday present for our great-grandchildren, who would be attending the university in 2089, Armstrong says.
NBC eventually heard about FUMFI and invited the 6-foot-9-inch Armstrong and 4-11 University of Idaho womens All-American basketball player Karen Sabbotta to appear on the TV show Fantasy in Los Angeles. The pair grabbed $2,100 worth of $50 bills blown about in a plastic telephone booth on the show. Going to and from the studio, they dug up $2.60 from airport upholstery and scrounged a final 55 cents found by an Idaho alumnus in the shows audience.
While money may be where you find it, Armstrong notes that all finds arent equal. FUMFI funders classify finds by levels. Level One finds are those where you might expect to discover change, such as coin returns on pay phones orArmstrongs special favoritethe deep chairs in hotel lobbies. Level Two finds, Armstrong adds, run to change found on the ground near fast-food outlets, vending machines, cash registers, etc. Not much to these.
Level Three approaches artsuch as when you spot a dollar bill in a pile of green leaves. Armstrong notes: Now were getting up to peripheral finds. Something glints on the street or protrudes out of mud or slush.
Level Four finds sometimes take a more technological approach, since they are occasionally under water or snow. We never went to metal detectors, Armstrong says. Level Four runs more to dollar bills in trees and other amazing, oddball discoveries. The typical Level Four includes the time we found a fellow in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building standing on a dollar and had to wait until he moved to pick it up.
Level Five finds are, Armstrong maintains, discussed only with reverence. He speaks in hushed tones about Zen finders like Dr. Bruce Pittman, the dean of students at the University of Idaho, who falls into this class. Dr. Pittman seems to sense where money lurks and can cross the street and find money that you cant see from the sidewalk.
Early in 2001, FUMFIs balance was $113,561.25. At 10 percent interest, the balance should double every few years and top $4 billion by 2089, Armstrong calculates.
Of course, a hot dog could cost $100 by then.