Lost and found

Published 3:16 am Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thomas Walker, a recent transplant to our area due to Hurricane Katrina, was out scouting with his metal detector several months ago when he found a small treasure — a class ring from 1959. Thanks to Walker’s diligence and need to have the ring back where it belonged, the owner was located and the ring was sent home.

“I have been fascinated with finding buried things since the military gave me a mine detector and ordered me not to ‘blow myself up,’ and I have never lost the excitement of finding anything lost or buried in the ground,” wrote Walker in a submitted statement.

“It was Saturday morning in late April that I sneaked off from my [honey-do list] to a vacant lot on the north corner of the block adjacent to Mickle’s Pickles here in Picayune to see what I might find with my White XLT. I had heard that the lot had been home to a funeral parlor and a church… a coin-shooters dream except for the fact that the building had been demolished with a bulldozer which causes a lot of trash and rubbish to be pushed under the ground.

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“… I started my search around the corner back of [my] truck, in the grass between the street and sidewalk, picking up a few modern coins and a buffalo nickel. I was working back toward the corner, across the sidewalk, when I got a good signal that said nickel-ring and number 25 — from past experience, I thought pull tab. I made another swing and the machine said small or large ring with a number 47. I pinpointed [the object to be] at a depth of six inches, drew my old dive knife that I use for digging and came up with a black clump of damp dirt that had something in it that could be a ring and dropped it in the keep pouch.”

After cleaning up his find, Walker discovered he had a man’s class ring, dated 1959, from New Hanover High School located in Wilmington, N.C. Computer research and a call to a local Wilmington paper, Wilmington Star News, told him the school still existed. However, it was a dead end on getting a class list from 1959 from any of the school officials — Walker was hoping to match the initials of a name to those inscribed on the ring.

“After some time, I gave in and supplied the initials to someone with the school, as I recall, and they matched them to a name,” wrote Walker. “I was fearful of the wrong person getting the ring for it is, or was, my intent to return it to the rightful owner.”

After several weeks of making phone calls and getting nowhere, Walker decided he would keep the ring and just wear it — it was size 11, just his size. He brought it to a friend at Martin’s Jewelers to be cleaned, polished and put back together. Walker wore the ring he described as “pretty” for a couple of weeks.

It would be Friday, June 5, that Walker would first hear from the ring’s rightful owner, a William Albert Spencer III of Grapevine, Texas. Both men credit the Wilmington Star News for putting them in touch with one another.

During a longer conversation, Monday, June 8, Walker became convinced that Spencer was indeed the ring’s rightful owner.

“I learned that Mr. Spencer spent some 25 years in the U.S. Air Force and about five of those years at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi,” wrote Walker. “[He] was there in 1969 when Hurricane Camille came in. He was sent out to clean up debris and trees from the roads and such when he lost his class ring…”

The ring’s journey was such that it was awarded to Spencer for his graduation in 1959, got lost in 1969 and was found in 2009. It was lost as a result of Hurricane Camille and found as a result of Hurricane Katrina, because, as Walker wrote, “I would not have been [in Picayune] had it not been for Hurricane Katrina.”

After mailing the ring on Tuesday, Walker reflected on his actions, “I could have taken the ring to a pawn shop or sold it for scrap gold and maybe made just more than $100… but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.”

Walker has also recently discovered that Spencer is terminally ill, and is undergoing treatment for cancer. He said, “What better time for him to get the ring back!”