Otego metal detector hobbyist Don Wyckoff said he was just investigating a signal he doesn't usually follow in Jefferson this summer when he unearthed a class ring that was more than 700 miles and 28 years removed from its owner.
Three days later, the ring was on its way back to its owner in North Carolina.
"I was able to take a picture of it, put the initials up and the school where it was and the sporting numbers that were in the ring," Wyckoff, who is the director of community relations at the Catskill Center for Independence, said. "About 20 minutes after I posted it on Facebook, I had people calling me saying, 'I know whose it is!'"
Soon enough, Wyckoff was on the phone with the ring owner's father, he said. He connected Wyckoff with the owner, Paul Van Ginhoven, who grew up in Jefferson and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"To see the picture of him holding that ring and remembering when he got it, it's like time travel," Wyckoff said. "It reconnects you to the past in such a heavy way."
Van Ginhoven said his parents gave him the ring when he was a freshman at Jefferson Central School. Like many people at the school, he wore it with pride, he said.
When Van Ginhoven showed up to soccer practice at the school's field however, his teammates told him he couldn't wear it everywhere.
"They said, 'You cant practice with your ring on your hand, you might hit somebody,'" Van Ginhoven said. "My friend said, 'Just tie it to the drawstring of your shorts,' so I said I'll do that and about five minutes later, I looked down and my ring was gone."
Van Ginhoven and his teammates scoured the field on that hot August day, he said, but to no avail. He said he kept looking for it throughout his time in high school but never found the striking blue and silver ring. Eventually, it became a running joke between him and his teammates, he said.
"We'd be out stretching and I'd say 'Hey look, I found my ring!'" he said.
Eventually, Van Ginhoven said, he gave up on finding the rogue ring, figuring someone else had found and taken it. When Wyckoff texted him a picture of it 28 years after its disappearance, Van Ginhoven said he "was floored."
"Never in a million years would I think someone would find it," Van Ginhoven said.
Van Ginhoven said the ring is still in good shape with just a small ding on the bottom, probably from an unknowing athlete's cleat or a lawn mower. He said Wyckoff found it right near where he remembers having it last.
"It turns out it'd been sitting underground the whole time and never really ventured far," he said.
Van Ginhoven said the ring is now safely in a jewelry case on his dresser. He said he's thankful for Wyckoff's consideration to reunite him with a long-lost piece of memorabilia.
"Don is a cool guy. I'd never met him before," Van Ginhoven said. "The fact that he reached out to me, sent this down to me without any expectations or anything, he didn’t have to do that. The fact that he tracked me down, that's a good guy there."
Wyckoff, who said he has been a metal detectorist for more than 30 years, said these are the types of interactions that fuel his passion for metal detecting the most. Wyckoff said he's fascinated by the history he can learn from the items he uncovers as well as being able to trace things back to their owners or the owner's descendants.
He said once he was searching the property of a family from whom he'd asked permission and found a small cross the family's grandfather had been very attached to. The grandfather lost it before he died, he said the family told him, but now they could bury it with him.
"I think for most detectorists ... the best part is reuniting somebody with something that they had so much heart and soul in and they lost it," Wyckoff said. "So to be able to give that back to the person is amazing."
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.