Honest couple telling their 'rags-to-semi-riches story'

March 03, 1993|By Orange County Register

BUENA PARK, Calif. -- The disc jockey was on the line. Would Tom and Pauline Nichter be up for doing a 7 a.m. interview?

No problem.

How about "The Maury Povich Show" in New York?

Not sure. Pauline Nichter's never flown before.

How about a 3 a.m. interview with a radio station in Ontario, Canada?

No way. Even the Nichters -- the honest couple who have become instant celebrities -- have to sleep.

There has been little time for sleeping, however, ever since the Buena Park couple found a wallet containing $2,394 in cash and returned it to police.

Just weeks before, the couple had been jobless and living out of their 1988 Honda Accord with their 11-year old son, Jason.

"It's our rags-to-semi-riches story," said Pauline Nichter, 46, who stumbled onto the wallet while window-shopping at a Buena Park mall last week.

"I can't believe it's gone this far," added Tom Nichter, 44.

By yesterday, stars had been born.

At the crack of dawn, a limousine pulled up in front of the one-bedroom Buena Park apartment where the Nichters have been staying temporarily and whisked them to NBC studios in Burbank for an interview with Katie Couric of the "Today" show.

"It felt like being in a spaceship. There was a TV on one side and a wet bar on the other side," said Tom Nichter, who gave up his job as a printer two years ago because of health problems.

"My son watched cartoons on the way home."

Pauline Nichter had a hunch she would make it on network television.

"I was kidding with my mom that maybe we'll get on Oprah Winfrey, then the 'Today' show called," she said.

"I think everybody's asking themselves, 'What would I have done if I found a wallet?' " explained Lynn Appelbaum, a spokesperson for "Today". "I think everybody could put themselves in their shoes and wonder what they might do."

The Nichters don't have an agent -- yet. But Terry Branum, the Buena Park police sergeant who assisted them last week, has filled in just fine.

"Better to deal with good news than bad news. It renews your faith in humanity," Sergeant Branum said. "It's a good opportunity for them to get back on their feet."

The media are not alone in reaching out to the Nichters.

The Buena Park Police Department has been flooded with at least 500 letters to the Nichters, many of which contain cash. The police estimate that the Nichters have received $10,000 -- but nothing from the tourist whose wallet they found.

"It's not going to be easy thanking all these people," said Tom Nichter. "It might take a long time, but I'm going to answer you."

"I guess we're getting our second chance, and, God, it feels great," Pauline Nichter said.

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