The return of the ring

Jim Nelson and his class ring, reunited after 61 years. Photo by William Benken

HILLSDALE—Though we search high and low, sometimes we just have to accept that the thing we lost is gone for good.

But other times, long after we have given up hope of ever finding that lost thing, it suddenly turns up as if by miracle.

Such was the fortunate case for James Nelson, a 1958 graduate of Roeliff Jansen High School, who lost his class ring while working with his brother to clear land in the area of Mount Washington, MA.

Mr. Nelson told The Columbia Paper by phone this week, that at the end of a long hot day of brush removal in the early summer of 1958, his brother picked up Mr. Nelson’s shirt from the ground and gave it a good shaking out.

What his brother did not know was that Mr. Nelson’s class ring was in the breast pocket and all that shaking caused it to go flying.

For days afterward, Mr. Nelson said he went back to the spot and searched for hours at a time. He said he only had the yellow and white gold ring for less than a month when it was lost.

In the 61 years following his graduation, Mr. Nelson married Tina Zavattaro of Lee, MA, in 1967, raised two children and now has “two beautiful granddaughters.”

He had a career working for the United Parcel Service for 33 years and has been retired for 22 years. He still makes his home in Hillsdale but just up the road from where he lived back then. He will turn 80 at the end of August.

It came as quite a surprise when Mr. Nelson got a call in early June from a former classmate telling him she saw on Facebook that someone had found his class ring.

The finder of the ring is William Benken, 42, a Roe Jan area resident who makes his living restoring cars but whose hobby for the past two years has been metal detecting.

What he hopes to detect are relics from the past: shoe buckles, spoons, coins or buttons. “Anything with writing or a date” on it to tell when it was made or that can be researched, Mr. Benken said in a phone interview this week.

Out with his detector on a day in early spring this year, Mr. Benken said he had found a couple of shotgun shells.

The sound his machine makes when it senses some small metal object like a nail or a beer can tab is like “a grunt.” But it reacts to silver, copper or gold with high tones “a beautiful loud noise” like a loud beep, as it did in this case, he said.

Even when the machine emits a “good tone,” said Mr. Benken, “it could be still be trash, but unless you dig you never know.”

So, using a small trowel, he dug a hole about five inches around and five inches deep and found the object. He immediately knew it was a ring, because he could see its shape and shine. He pulled it out of the hole and with a toothbrush cleaned off some of the dirt to reveal the Roeliff Jansen insignia under a windmill and the year 1958. On the back side he found the initials JHN.

In researching who the ring belonged to, Mr. Benken started with the Roeliff Jansen Library. There he was directed to go to the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society in Copake Falls, where they have a collection of all the Roeliff Jansen High School yearbooks.

In a climate controlled back room, Mr. Benken inspected the senior portraits in the 1958 yearbook and came upon James Nelson, no middle initial, but the only name that closely matched.

He went to Facebook where he found the Roe Jan Alumni page and entered information about his find and posted a photo of the ring. “Within 20 minutes I had a response from someone whose husband recognized the name” and told him Mr. Nelson still lives in Hillsdale and his number was in the phone book.

The men later met for dinner at the Taconic Wayside Inn and Mr. Nelson was reunited with the ring he never thought he’d see again.

Mr. Benken said he was “looking for history” but never expected to find a 61-year-old Roe Jan class ring.

Mr. Nelson was grateful, said Mr. Benken, noting he has lost personal things of his own that he looked for long and hard in attics and closets. “When I find something like this with initials, I think they were put there for this purpose… to be found.”

The white and yellow gold 1958 Roeliff Jansen High School class ring unearthed after 61 years.

The best things he has ever unearthed are a shoe buckle dating back to the mid-1700s and an 1823 American large copper cent. Even if he found something worth a lot of money, Mr. Benken said he would just keep it in his collection.

Unbelievably, Mr. Benken found another class ring in the summer of 2017. This one belonged to a woman who graduated from Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie. The woman told him she had worked five jobs to pay for the ring, which had a beautiful blue gemstone and had been lost for 30 years near the Bash Bish Creek.

Mr. Benken said he gets much enjoyment out of metal detecting in his own yard with his five-year-old daughter, Elsa, who likes to help him dig.

As for Mr. Nelson, he now keeps his newfound old ring in a safe place, no more shirt pockets, and only wears it on special occasions.

Remarkably, it still fits.

To contact Diane Valden email

Comments are closed.