Back in 1981, I had just gotten a new job with an Atlanta, Georgia based company for a one-year field assignment in New Athens, Illinois (about 50 miles East of St. Louis). The work I was doing did not typically take the full day so I had some extra time on my hands for pursuing my metal detecting hobby. I still had my first metal detector, a Compass Relic Magnum 6 that I had purchased in Salt Lake City, UT in 1978. I had been having trouble using it with the mineralized soil in central Illinois. My Army friend, J.R. Hoff, who had got me started metal detecting, had just traded in his old White’s Coinmaster for a White’s 6000 and loved it. We arranged to meet and do some hunting together in the Huntsville, Alabama area near where he was stationed at the time. While there, I bought a White’s 6000 for myself.
Upon my return to Illinois with my new machine, my finds immediately began to improve. I found a lot of silver coins, hard times tokens, and my oldest coin, a one “bit” piece from a 18th century Spanish eight Reale. I also found my first and last two high school class rings that year. The first one was found under a cloths line in the back yard of the parsonage of the pastor that married my wife Beth and me that summer. It was large silver boys ring. It had belonged to the son of the previous pastor that had lived in the parsonage. I contacted the pastor and discovered his son was away at college. I sent the ring back to the father and several weeks later received a very nice letter from the son thanking me for returning the ring.
The second ring was found in a city park near New Athens, Illinois. It was a small, gold tone, boy’s high school class ring. It was from the Trico High School, Pioneers, Class of 76, and had the initials A. R. O. engraved inside. I had tried to research the owner of the ring at the time but did not have any luck finding the owner. I was new to this area and I did not know if the Trico High School was an Illinois school or not. I was only in Illinois for one year and got a company transfer back to the Atlanta, Georgia office.
About two months ago, I was storing away some of my metal detecting finds from the past few months and the ring caught my eye again. I had been seeing banner advertisements for web sites to find classmates on Internet and thought I would try to find out who A. R. O. was from Trico High School class of 76 and return the ring. The site was not of much help since I only had the name of the school, year, and the person’s initials. I was not sure if the school was in Illinois or not? I also could not find much from only the initials, I would have really needed the full name. Next I tried a web search for Illinois high schools. There were two listings for a Trico high school, one of them was the “Pioneers” which matched the ring. Next, I went to the Balfour (manufacturer of the ring) web site and found the name of the salesman (Kelley Blewett) who sells to this high school. I sent him an e-mail with a picture of the ring with its details and asked if he could help me locate the owner. About a month had gone by and I had not received anything from the ring company representative so I sent him an e-mail reminder. This time I got a prompt e-mail reply. He told me that the web site was new and he had not received the previous e-mail. He did not have sales records for this school that went back to 1976, but provided me with contact information for the Trico School’s office.
I contacted a Michael at the school’s office and I told her the story about the ring that I was trying to return to the owner. She said that she would research the matter and let me know when she had found something. I was hoping to hear something in the next week. In less than two hours, she called me back! She was able to determine the students name was (Anthony R. Oetjen), but he had passed away! His parents (Leland & Barb Oetjen) still lived in the area and Michael was able to find their address and phone number for me.
I was sorry to learn that their son Anthony had passed away, and that I had not attempted to return the ring earlier. I called Anthony’s father and explained that I had his son’s high school class ring, how I had found it, and that I would be sending it back to him this week. He told me that Anthony had several children and was sure his family would greatly appreciate having their father’s high school class ring back. Leland sent me a very nice letter thanking me for the time and efforts I had gone through to return the ring.
Finders keepers is the expression that usually comes to mind for most of us when we have found something while metal detecting. Sometimes the urge to keep a valuable item may be very tempting, but the feeling of a returning the item to it’s original owner is much more rewarding and exciting than the excitement of finding the item! Researching these items when the snow is on the ground or those rainy days is a great way to battle the “cabin fever” when you can’t get out doing some actual metal detecting.
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