BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (ABC4) – They say life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to find.
One police officer in Austin, Texas found that to be the case when he answered a call for an elderly man with dementia who set out to walk to Utah for, well, a box of chocolates.
“He’s at the age when things don’t process the way they used to,” the 80-year-old man’s wife, Mary Erdmann explains to ABC4.com. “He’s having a little trouble with his memory and what’s going on, but physically he’s still in pretty good shape.”
With a longing for a taste of the chocolates and candy he had enjoyed in his youth from Idle Isle in Brigham City, Dale Erdmann set out to make a trip to the shop to pick up some treats, not realizing that he was actually more than 1,300 miles away from the Northern Utah city’s Main Street.
He made it more than a block away from his home, dressed in layers to compensate for the Utah weather he experienced in his younger days before the police were notified.
Ryan Mihalik, who works for the Texas capital city’s metro tactical unit, had picked up an overtime patrol shift on July 9, when he responded to the service call involving the elderly man who was far over-dressed for the weather, walking through the southern part of town.
“He had a hard time understanding that he was in Austin, I had to show him the patches on my uniform and I showed him my driver’s license that we were here in Austin, Texas,” Ryan Mihalik remembers. “Finally, I convinced him that he actually was here in Texas and it wouldn’t be a good idea to walk to Utah.”
Mihalik brought Erdmann back to his home and chatted with him and his wife, Mary, for a while about his childhood growing up in Brigham City. Idle Isle was one of his favorite places when he was a kid, Mihalik remembers Erdmann sharing.
“He just kept talking about how he grew up there and had really fond memories of going into that candy store,” Mihalik recalls. “And all he wanted to do that day was get out and go get that chocolate. It was pretty heartbreaking.”
After finishing the call and saying his goodbyes to the Erdmanns, Mihalik hopped online to look up Idle Isle. Upon finding the store’s website, he placed an order for a variety box of chocolates to be sent to the couple’s home, with a personal note to accompany the treats.
When the store’s owner, Shari VanDyke, received the order on her end, she reached out to Mihalik, whose email was on the request, reminding him that due to the summer weather in both Utah and Texas, it was possible and likely that the chocolates would arrive melted.
Mihalik responded that was not a problem, as long as the very important package arrived at its destination. He continued by explaining how he had come across Isle Idle and the man who had been willing to walk across the country for its hand-dipped chocolates.
VanDyke was moved.
“We were reading it and teared up and just thought it was such a heartwarming story,” VanDyke conveys of her staff’s reaction to the story. Mihalik and Erdmann’s story was then posted on the store’s Facebook page where it received plenty of positive buzz.
On her end, VanDyke sent two boxes of chocolates to Austin, one to the Erdmanns, and another to Mihalik’s address.
When the box arrived at the Erdmanns’ address, which the couple has called home since 1973, Mary was “gobsmacked.”
“It was just the nicest surprise we’ve ever had,” she glows. “And it was just totally unexpected.”
While the Erdmanns had made several trips to Brigham City over the years, which always includes a stop by Idle Isle, it had been about 15 to 20 years since Dale had enjoyed the store’s signature chocolates, Mary guesses. Although the treats were a little melted when they finally arrived at their primary destination in South Austin, the Almond Cream Toffees in the box at Mihalik’s home were perfectly intact upon delivery.
“I think it was probably in my mailbox for three days before I even decided to check my box, and they weren’t melted,” he says.
Erdmann is grateful for Mihalik’s thoughtfulness and kindness, not only in ordering the chocolates but in bringing her husband home in such a gentle way. She says he was quite confused when he walked away from home that day and had even difficulty remembering Mary was his wife, calling her “his babysitter.”
“To treat people with dignity and respect and then go out of their way to do something that nice, it just restores my faith in humanity, and the police, especially here in Austin. I just love him,” she gushes of Mihalik.
Back in Utah, VanDyke believes that actions like Mihalik’s speak volumes for the policing community as a whole, which can sometimes “get a bad rap.”
“They’re the good guys and for him to go that extra mile and help out that gentlemen, just from the goodness of his heart, speaks volumes for our men in blue,” she asserts.
To Mihalik, services like the one he provided for the Erdmanns are the ones that make it worthwhile.
“The calls that we handle out there, there’s such a wide variety of them. And the one that I handled that day for Mr. Erdmann, those are the ones that, to me, you remember, and it makes you feel good helping out like that.”