David Skeels wasn't looking for a stolen ox statue in the basement of a fraternity in Corvallis on Aug. 23, but he found it, and the only reason he recognized it was because he'd helped install it years before at the Blue Ox RV park in Albany.
The small statue, naturally nicknamed Babe, was stolen from the RV park Jan. 8, 2015, but efforts to find it turned up nothing. In a now-prophetic statement, park owner Scott Lepman said at the time of the theft: “We’re thinking it’s some sort of prank and he’ll show up somewhere. We’re hoping.”
Skeels, an HVAC technician, said he was working on the boiler in the basement of the Theta Chi fraternity house when he took a wrong turn and ended up in a small storage room. There in the corner, facing the wall, was the little blue ox.
"If I hadn't made a wrong turn, I would never have known it was there," said Skeels. "It's strange too, because I've lived (at the RV park) for 17 years. I saw it there and just instantly went 'Oh!'"
Skeels said he'd helped move Babe from a grassy area of the park to a spot next to the sign at the front gate in 2015. Just a couple of days later, it was gone.
Fraternity members returned the ox on Tuesday. Park manager Daniel Underwood, who was not employed at the park when it was stolen, was on duty when the prodigal ox was delivered.
"These frat guys came up and just said, 'Hey, we got your ox,'" he said. "I didn't know anything about it."
The Theta Chi fraternity's flag displays the Greek letters Theta and Chi, which spell OX, in red letters on a white background with a red border. Underwood said the guys who returned the statue said they had plans to paint it red, but also said it was at their house before they got there. After its origins were discovered, they were instructed to return it.
Fraternity member Christopher Coatu, a senior studying chemical engineering at Oregon State University, said nobody at the house knew the origins of the ox. He said they were all surprised when Skeels was so excited after finding it.
"So we called the RV park and they said, 'Yeah, that's our ox,'" said Coatu. "So we made arrangements to bring it back."
Back when it was stolen, Lepman Properties offered a reward for Babe’s return, which includes a two-week stay at the Blue Ox RV Park and a dinner with Paul Bunyan at a restaurant of the rescuer’s choice. Lepman also noted at the time he did not want to press charges.
In an email sent Wednesday to the Democrat-Herald, Lepman reiterated that the park's management did not plan to seek charges. And he added that "we are excited that we have found Babe! It is crazy that its a Fraternity House Prank!!"
As for the reward offer, Skeels said he's just happy the ox is back home.