ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Ashes stolen in Superior are recovered in Duluth, with an act of kindness in between

Officer Austin Lauridsen bought a rose and a gift card for Jean Zowin after taking a report that small containers of her husband's ashes meant for her grandchildren had been stolen.

Jean Zowin, left, shares a smile with Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen
Jean Zowin, left, shares a smile with Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. After the funeral for Zowin's husband, Gerald, her son’s car was broken into. Condolence cards, the guest book and bits of Jerry’s ashes set aside for his nine grandchildren were stolen from the car.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
We are part of The Trust Project.

SUPERIOR – The family of Gerald “Jerry” Zowin gathered in Superior to celebrate his life Saturday, Feb. 12.

The Navy veteran and devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend had passed away a week earlier.

Following his service at Downs-LeSage Funeral Home, the family headed downtown for a luncheon that lasted into the early evening hours, prompting his wife and sons, all of whom live out of town, to stay one more night.

“We were going to leave Saturday, so we had most of our cars packed up after the services,” said Bryan Zowin of Peoria, Illinois, one of Gerald’s three sons. “I had gotten a bag from the funeral home with all the condolence cards, the guest book and my father’s ashes to his grandchildren. So, we had it in the car ... We woke up the next morning and my car had been broken into. The bag with the guest book and ashes was stolen from my vehicle.”

His mother was devastated the bag was missing.

ADVERTISEMENT

Bryan said he called the police to report the crime.

Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen, who has been with the department almost three years, responded to the call.

Jean Zowin, left, speaks about her appreciation of Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen
Jean Zowin, left, speaks about her appreciation of Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen at Department Headquarters in Superior, Wis., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. After taking a report on the theft of ashes, the guest book and condolence cards, Lauridsen bought a white rose and a gift card for Jean to show he was sorry the theft happened.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Bryan said they talked as Lauridsen took photographs and wrote up the report. Before Lauridsen left, he asked Bryan when they planned to leave Superior.

“He came back a half-hour later with a white rose for my mother and a gift card, saying ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you,’” Bryan said.

Gerald’s wife of almost 59 years, Jean Zowin of Wyoming, Minnesota, said she was at the funeral home when Lauridsen returned to deliver the rose and gift card. She was touched by his kindness when her son told her what happened.

“He was so sweet,” she said of Lauridsen. It prompted her to take to Facebook on Sunday, Feb. 13.

“With the many negative press our law enforcement receive today, I feel compelled to make sure others know of this story about this great Angel in Blue – Officer Austin Lauridsen,” she posted wrote. “His compassion and kindness touched my heart, and I am grateful to him. It reminded me how kind and giving my beloved husband Jerry was.”

Lauridsen said most of people he works with would do the same thing.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s not like a police perspective,” Lauridsen said. “Behind the badge we’re all human. We all have feelings. We all get mad, angry, sad, happy just like anybody else. That day I felt really sad, so I ran to the Kwik Trip, and I bought a gift card and a white rose … to some people it looks like the extra mile, but it should just be the norm.”

At the time Jean posted her story, she didn’t even know the best part was yet to come.

Through sharing her story on social media, and a campaign launched by family members, police were able to recover the bag with most of its contents, Bryan said.

Jean said she wasn't clear on what was in the bag because she hadn't looked inside, but most of the sympathy cards and the money were not returned.

Jean Zowin, left, chats with Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen
Jean Zowin, left, chats with Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen before talking to local media at the Superior Police Department in Superior, Wis., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jean drove back to Superior on Tuesday, Feb. 15.

“I’m happy they were able to get Gerald’s ashes back and those weren’t destroyed because we’ve had cases like that where ashes and urns were destroyed, Lauridsen said.

Lauridsen said someone who recognized a name in the guest registry reached out and was encouraged to call police. Duluth police made an arrest on charges unrelated to the theft in Superior and recovered the Zowins' bag in the process. Lauridsen is still working to get the name of the suspect so he can make an arrest on the theft in Superior.

Jean said Gerald’s urn wasn’t among the items stolen but she was grateful to get the small containers of ashes back that were set aside for the couple’s nine grandchildren, as well as the guest book, memorial cards, and an item from the Richard I. Bong American Legion, which provided military honors at her husband’s service.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Those are the important things,” she said.

Jean Zowin, left, listens to Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen
Jean Zowin, left, listens to Superior Police Officer Austin Lauridsen tell the story of Zowin’s son’s car being broken into at the Superior Police Department in Superior, Wis., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

This story was updated at 7:55 a.m. Feb. 17 to clarify the items that were stolen from the family and what was recovered by police. It was originally posted at 5 p.m. Feb. 16.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
What to read next
The Holiday Tea event held Wednesday, Dec. 7, was a fundraiser for the Carlton County Historical Society.
Jenna Gilbert and Colleen and Bethany Sunnarborg decided to open a brick and mortar store for their business, Abundant Baby, after finding success online and at trade shows.
Business owners provided feedback on proposed designs for improving pedestrian and bike traffic on Minnesota Highway 33 slated to take place when MnDOT plans to resurface the highway in 2029.
The approved increase of 6.23% is lower than the preliminary budget that was approved at a 6.5% increase in September. City staff said this was due to health care estimates coming in under budget.