Harlem High School diploma from 1917, found in Wisconsin thrift shop, returned to family


LOVES PARK, Ill. (WTVO) — A high school diploma handed out more than 100 years ago sat in a thrift store in Wisconsin, with a price tag of $2.50.

That is, until antique collector Ann Campos found it.

“I’m like, ‘Wow! This is so cool! But why is it in a thrift shop? It should be on somebody’s wall, at home,'” she said.

Agnes Theresa Johnson graduated from Harlem High School in 1915. In addition to her diploma, a family portrait also sat at the Winneconne Thrift & Gift store, at 911 E Main St in Winneconne, Wisconsin.

“There’s a million Johnsons, and I thought: there’s no way anyone is going to recognize this,” Campos said.

She snapped a photo of the two items and posted them on Facebook. It didn’t take long for a distant relative to reach out.

Johnson’s great niece, Cloi Rowley, inherited boxes of family photos and uploaded the collection to Ancestry.com.

She received a message from the website, asking about Agnes Johnson after someone had seen Campos’ post.

“I knew who she was, and I said, ‘Oh yeah, she was married to my great uncle Earl,'” Rowley said.

Earl’s name appears on the diploma. He signed it as Johnson’s principal.

“Did she marry her principal? I saw that signature and thought, ‘Ok. Now I have to have this, and I will hold onto it, in case I ever figure out what is the rest of that story,’ like: when did this romance start?” Rowley wondered.

Earl and Agnes were married in Chicago shortly after his return from the war. They moved to Madison and then out to the state of Oregon. How the family heirlooms landed in a thrift store is still unknown.

“When she told me how much it was, I was like, that had to be wrong. When I called the thrift store, she was like, ‘Yeah, they’re $2.50, so it’s going to be $5 all together, and if you’re paying with a credit card, we have to charge you an extra 50 cents,” Rowley said.

Rowley has since purchased the items and Campos has offered to pick them up and ship them to her.

According to Rowley, Earl and Agnes remained happily married and had two children. Agnes died in 1984.

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