Tricounty News

Former Kimball student reunited with class ring lost in Lake Sylvia for 69 years



By Mike Nistler

We have all heard stories about folks who lose class rings and years later are reunited with them.

The story never gets old to hear. And in the case of one former Kimball High School student, the wait to be reunited with his ring took some 69 years and a bit of detective work as well.

This tale goes back to the early 1940s. Donald Elliott was a student at Kimball High School and would have graduated in 1944, the year etched on his class ring, had it not been for World War II. Elliott decided to drop out of high school and enlist in the Navy because being drafted was almost a certainty and he wanted to choose the branch of the military that he would serve.

Of course, before he left for the service he lost that ring in Lake Sylvia near South Haven on a swimming excursion with his brother. The year was 1943. Elliott was a junior in high school. He and his brother looked for the ring but could not find it. Elliott gave up the search and hope of ever seeing the ring again.

"When I first met him he talked about it and would mention it from time to time over the years," said Elliott's wife Shirley.

Elliot's time on the water would only get more harrowing as he served in the South Pacific during World War II. Losing his class ring at that time seemed like a minor occurrence.

Fast forward almost 70 years. Donald Elliott is now 87 and although he never has forgotten about his lost class ring, he never expects to see it again, either.

Enter Darrin Gray of Waconia who owns a company called Team Finders. He also belongs to an international organization called Ring Finders.

Gray learned that in the early 1900s there was a dance hall located on Lake Sylvia. Armed with nothing but a hand-drawn map, Gray took is boat to Lake Sylvia and began searching for relics. The date was Aug. 24, 2012.

"It was actually a really fun search as I found all sorts of relics from the past," Gray said, explaining that his map led him to the wrong locale of the dance hall. If it had not been for being in the wrong place and the right time, well, Gray would never have found those relics, including Elliott's ring, which was "covered by sand in around 5 to 6 feet of water. It was a Jostens's class ring from 1944."

The ring had a "K" on it with the initials D.E.

Eventually Gray picked up the phone and called the Kimball Area Historical Society.

Carol Newman who is on the board of the Kimball Historical Society takes the story from here: "We just had our all-school reunion and I had my reunion yearbook on my kitchen counter so I made a quick check on the class list of '44-no one with those initials."

However, Newman had a hunch. "The first and only name that came to mind with those initials was Donald Elliott. The Elliott family lived in Kimball many years ago and my husband, Lloyd, had worked with Don at Ziegler, Inc. back in 1962-63. Could it be him? I had no idea what class he would have been in. So we decided to call his sister who lives in South Haven. Her first response was, 'No I don't think Don ever got his ring because he went into the military and didn't finish school.' But she said that would have been his year to graduate so she would call him. A couple of days later she called me and said, 'Guess what, he did have a ring and lost it in Lake Sylvia while swimming with friends.'

Then, just last weekend, Saturday, Oct. 6, Gray was able to return the ring to Elliott.

It was the longest lost item that Gray has ever found that he has been able to return to its original owner.

Gray also found several other lost relics, from rings and necklaces to an old shampoo bottle. He is donating those items to the Kimball Historical Society and hopes that others may be reunited with lost items.

More about Darrin Gray's business, Team Finders, which consists of Gray, his wife, two children and a friend. Team Finders works on a reward basis only. "We search for relics of the past, but have found throughout the years, we come across missing valuables from recent times also. We try our best to research and get the

items back to their rightful owners."

Ring Finders is an international network of people all over the world willing to search for people's lost valuables. Visit http://theringfinders.com/blog/Darrin.Gray/ for some of the stories of other recoveries.