In 1978, Mostafa “Moe” Jamshidi left $4,000 in cash, immigration forms, a traveler’s check and his photo ID behind at a soccer field on the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus.
It was a big but simple mistake to make soon after he arrived in Omaha. Jamshidi was always ready for a pickup soccer game — he wore shorts underneath his jeans. For about two hours after a spontaneous game of soccer, his jeans hung on a tree branch near the field.
“Everything my dad gave me to survive here for about six to eight months was in those jeans,” Jamshidi said.
But if he hadn’t made that mistake, he might not have met Bob and Jane Meehan.
And if not for the Meehans, “I could be, honestly, dead,” Jamshidi said. “I would have never been able to finish school, that’s for sure ... I could’ve been dead in (the Iran-Iraq War) like the million people that died.”
Jamshidi, 58, instead went on to work for what’s now the Nebraska Department of Transportation. He’s the department’s deputy director of operations.
After realizing his mistake, Jamshidi, then 19, rushed out of his room at the Colonial Hotel at 38th and Farnam Streets and tried to catch a ride back to campus. He began the 2-mile walk along Dodge Street with his thumb up. He was hesitant, because in his home country of Iran, a thumbs-up is equivalent to a middle finger.
Finally, Bob Meehan stopped his station wagon to pick up Jamshidi. “I saw this young man — kid — standing on the street corner saying, ‘UNO! UNO!’ ”
At the time, Jamshidi spoke limited English, but Meehan understood enough of what he was saying. Jamshidi recovered his jeans and everything in the pockets. Meehan drove Jamshidi back to his hotel and gave him his phone number.
“ ‘You call me any time you need help,’ ” Meehan recalls saying. “One day I got a call, and three of his buddies came over and sat in our living room with my wife and I.”
Soon after, the Meehans invited Jamshidi to join their Thanksgiving dinner.
“It became so natural, like I’ve known them all my life,” Jamshidi said. “It was so easy to talk to them. They were so patient.”
He became part of the family. With a few of the Meehans’ five children away at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, they had a spare room for him, where he stayed between roommates. Since 1979, Jamshidi said, there are no Meehan family photos that he isn’t in.
Bob and Jane Meehan gave $100 to The World-Herald’s Goodfellows charity “in honor of the Mostafa Jamshidi family.” All donations collected by Goodfellows go directly to help community members in need. The World-Herald pays all administrative expenses.
The Meehans supported Jamshidi while the U.S. froze Iranian assets during the Iran hostage crisis. Overall, Jamshidi said, they made adjusting to life in the United States less stressful.
“That stress on its own would have probably put me to a point where I would have had to go back to Iran to survive,” Jamshidi said. “Then I would have had to gone to the military when the Iran-Iraq War started.”
Jamshidi married his wife, Rhonda, in 1984, soon after graduating from UNO with a degree in civil engineering. After working as an intern with the Nebraska Department of Roads, he began an engineering job in Columbus for the agency. Since then he has been rising in the ranks. In 2015 he briefly served as interim head of the department.
In 1988 he became an American citizen, and his son, Devin, was born. He has one stepson, Carl.
Jamshidi is grateful he met the Meehans. “I’m an engineer scientist, so I don’t believe in luck,” he said. “I believe in being in the right place at the right time. I believe in people, people who are good. ... I believe good things happen for good reasons.”