By Derrick Knutson
For about 45 years a golden ring lay buried on a parcel of land in North Branch, near the intersection of Highway 95 and County Road 14.
When North Branch resident John Peterson found that ring while metal detecting on Memorial Day – covered in just inches of soil – he told his neighbor, Grace Johnson, about the find.
That was the start of the ring’s journey back to its rightful owner.
As it turns out, North Branch native Vana Scheele lost the ring sometime in 1967.
It was her class ring, which she purchased for about $75 one year before she graduated from North Branch High School.
Peterson said he got permission to search the land with his detector from caretaker Ronnie Johnson.
Before Johnson took stewardship of the land, longtime, now-deceased North Branch resident Clayton Anderson owned it.
Anderson rented a house on the property for years, which is where Scheele lived in 1967 with her husband and young son.
Scheele said she doesn’t recall how she lost the ring – she guessed she might have been working in the yard or pushing her son around in a stroller when the ring slipped off her finger – and for years she thought she lost the bauble at a now-defunct dance hall in Fish Lake Township.
Needless to say, she was surprised when Peterson contacted her about the piece of jewelry.
Old yearbook comes in handy
When Peterson initially examined the ring, he thought the year engraved on it was 1945.
Eagle-eyed Johnson was able to ascertain the correct year was actually 1965.
Knowing that date, Johnson was able to use the initials printed on the ring, VA – Anderson is Scheele’s maiden name – to track down the possible owner in the 1965 North Branch High School yearbook she owns.
“Grace goes, ‘You know Aaron Scheele (Vana’s son)?’” Peterson said. “I was like, ‘Yeah.’ Then she says, ‘It’s Vana.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
In addition to knowing her son, Peterson also knew Scheele.
Scheele worked as a health clerk at the high school from 1979 to 2000, and Peterson was one of the many students she met during her time there.
Once Peterson knew it was Scheele’s ring, he called her up and the two reconnected so Peterson could give the ring back.
Peterson, who has been metal detecting since 1993, has found an array of items over the years, but he hasn’t come across a gold ring in about eight years.
“I kept telling my better half, ‘I have to find a gold ring,”’ he said.
Not the first time
Initially, Scheele said only in a smaller community like North Branch could a tiny piece of jewelry be found and returned after such a long period of time, but after hearing a story from Peterson, she had to withdraw that assertion.
In 1997, Peterson was living in Colorado and metal detecting on a ski slope. He came across his first class ring with his metal detector, and after the find he went on a mission to discover who it belonged to.
He noticed the ring was made by the Jostens company, which has an office in Mankato. He called the office and was eventually directed to the high school in New York to which the ring was sold 15 years prior.
A faculty member at the school was the host mother of the Swedish foreign exchange student who lost the ring.
She forwarded Peterson the woman’s mailing address and he sent the ring off.
“I just mailed it and didn’t think much of it,” Peterson said.
Six months later, he received a box of gifts from the woman, who was very thankful to get the ring back.
The two now correspond via e-mail and social networking.
Peterson submitted the story to Western and Eastern Treasures magazine and it was printed in December of 1999.
For Peterson, returning such treasured items to people who lost them long ago is just as exciting as finding the treasures.
If Scheele ever loses another bit of jewelry, she knows who to turn to.
“I’ll try not to lose it again,” she said to Peterson at the Clayton Anderson property. “If I do, I’ll call you.”