About 15 years ago, the waters of Otsego Lake swallowed a ring that had slipped from a pinky finger.
In September, B.J. Coontz of Endicott visited Glimmerglass State Park north of Cooperstown to try his luck at finding precious or curious items with a metal detector. The treasure hunter found the ring that had slipped away.
And on Saturday, he returned the ring to its owner — Christine Benson of Worcester.
“It was just such a good feeling,” Coontz said Monday night.
Benson said she and Coontz arranged last week to meet at Oakdale Mall in Johnson City on Saturday afternoon. Her mother, Linda J. Butler, of Richmondville, joined her on the trip.
Benson said she had given up hope of recovering her class of 1988 Worcester Central School ring, which had been inscribed with her maiden name, Christine A. Rifenburgh. The ring easily could have been sold, she said, but instead an honest man had taken time and trouble to find the owner.
“He did it out of the kindness of his heart,” Benson said Monday.
Coontz said he figured the ring was lost last summer, not about 15 years ago.
“This is the first high school ring I've found,” he said. “This is the first time I've been able to reunite an item with its owner. … It's so exciting.”
The ring carries memories, Benson said, of high school days and friends and of her early courtship with Ronald Benson, now her husband. He had asked to wear the ring as a sign of their steady relationship, she said, and one day when they were in the swimming area at Glimmerglass State Park, the ring slipped off his pinky finger.
“We looked and looked and looked,” she said. “We tried frantically to find it.”
Benson said the ring had been lost on the right side of the swimming area facing the lake and had been found on the left side. Coontz told her he had waded into water about chest-level high when he found the ring.
Coontz, a self-described “avid metal detectorist” for more than 35 years, was eager to share the story about the outing that result in finding Benson's ring.
Coontz said he and a few friends from the Southern Tier Metal Detectors Club in Binghamton went to Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse, and each participant put $5 toward a pot for the person who found the first gold item. At the park, they found 10 to 15 other detectorists already there, which prompted a decision to go instead to Glimmerglass State Park.
“We donned our wetsuits and gathered our gear and headed out to the water,” Coontz said. After 15 or 20 minutes, he said, his detector gave him a “good signal.”
“I scooped up the target in my basket, gave it a shake, and as I brought it to the surface, I saw a ring,” Coontz said. “ It was a high school class ring and inside was inscribed 14K. Great find, I thought, first gold of the day.”
The next day, Coontz said, he examined the ring more closely and found a name inscribed inside.
“I decided to try to find the owner of this ring,” he said. Several attempts through social media were unsuccessful, he said, and he sent email to the school's alumni director twice.
Benson recalled her conversation with the alumni contact, Norma Ralph, and the communications that clarified what had been lost and found.
“There's no way it could be my school ring after all these years,” Benson recalling saying. “He verified that that was exactly what he found, and it was in perfect shape.”
Benson said she is grateful to Coontz, whose only request was some publicity about the ring to benefit this metal detector club with hopes of attracting new members.
“I never realized there were clubs like that,” Benson said. Participating in media reports was “the least” she could do, she said.
Benson, a customer service representative at The Daily Star and a hairdresser, said she was nervous about meeting strangers and a television crew but was eager to be reunited with her ring. Her husband checked out the ring Saturday when she returned home, she said, and has reiterated an interest in metal detecting.
As Benson holds out her right hand, the blue stone glimmers from the jewel that still fits on her ring finger.
“I'm going to wear it,” she said. “But I'm not going to wear it in the water.”