Class ring lost 45 years ago returned to its owner

Shawn Hardy
The Greencastle-Antrim High School class ring he lost 45 years ago near Martin's Mill Bridge is now back in John W. Thomas Jr.'s hands.

A discovery during father-and-son "adventuring" trip to Martin's Mill Bridge in Antrim Township on July 29 and a bit of detective work have reunited a Greencastle man with the class ring he lost 45 years ago.

Jeremy Knowlton of Heathsville, Va., found John W. Thomas Jr.'s ring while metal detecting in the east branch of the Conococheague Creek, as his son, Shrade, splashed in the water nearby.

Lost in time 

The 1849 covered bridge has always been a special place for Thomas, who now lives on North Washington Street in Greencastle.

It was a five-minute bike ride from his home in Worleytown and he would often go there to jump in the water to cool off after baling hay or mowing grass on a hot summer day.

He was part of a cadre of local boys recruited by state Rep. William O. Shuman to help put the bridge back together after it was swept downstream by the flood waters of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Thomas recalled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Grove cranes were involved in returning the bridge to its proper location.

Three years later in 1975, another big storm brought high water that threatened the bridge.

"That's when I went down there ... they were saying it could take the bridge out again," Thomas said.

Thomas was skipping stones in the creek when he heard a "kerplosh" and the G-A High School Class of 1976 ring he'd gotten just a few weeks before as a high school junior was gone.

"My heart sank," Thomas said, explaining the ring cost $110 — which is the equivalent of $544 today. His parents, John W. Sr. and Florence Naomi Thomas paid for half, while he earned the other half working on farms and mowing grass.

"I had to go tell my parents I just lost my class ring," Thomas said. "My mom wasn't real happy."

Thomas returned to the creek for weeks, fruitlessly searching for the ring. He did not get a replacement class ring, but did get a similar one when he served in the U.S. Army.


Knowlton is a production supervisor for Stella-Jones, a company that manufactures lumber products, including railroad ties and utility poles. He was in Hagerstown for work projects and brought 11-year-old Shrade along.

"It was cool to spend eight days with him," Knowlton said. After work, they would return to their hotel, shower, change and "go adventuring." They visited Gettysburg and walked across the Potomac River at Williamsport, Md.

The Knowltons saw a picture of Martin's Mill Bridge on Google maps and thought, "Let's go see a covered bridge."

"He played in the stream and I grabbed my metal detector," said Knowlton, a metal detector enthusiast.

"My metal detector rarely leaves my side," Knowlton said. "I've taken it on vacation to Mexico with me, at work, it's in my truck."

He's found "lots of cool stuff," including items from the Inca Empire and silver Spanish coins in Peru, as well as colonial shoe buckles, coins and bullets near his home in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

"While my son played in the water, I metal detected out in the stream," Knowlton explained. "My seventh hole that I dug that day was one of the most memorable I have ever dug. In knee-deep water with the current whipping past me I got a good signal. I marked it and dug 4 inches down in the gravel and came up with a ring."

And then the search was on to find the owner of 1976 Greencastle-Antrim class ring based on the initials "JWT."

 'Super sleuth mode' 

Knowlton called G-A High School and talked with Kim Combs, the principal's secretary.

Combs said she is careful about confidentiality and doesn't give out contact information like addresses, phone numbers or email for graduates.

"But we may point people in the right direction," said Combs, who found two names with the initials "JT" in the 1976 yearbook.

Armed with this information, Knowlton went into "super sleuth mode." He searched on Facebook and subscribed to the White Pages.

One possible owner was eliminated because his middle initial was an "A" not a "W," leaving John W. Thomas Jr.

Knowlton left Facebook and phone messages for anyone he found who could be connected to Thomas. He found an address and sent Thomas a letter.

Finally, Knowlton got Thomas' phone number and left the message "I'm Jeremy Knowlton. I was metal detecting and found something that might me yours. Give me a call."

When Thomas called him back, Knowlton told him, "I think I have something of yours. I have a ring."

Thomas asked, "Where did you find it?" and Knowlton replied Martin's Mill Bridge.

Thomas described the gold ring with a green stone "to a T," said Knowlton.

"Lo and behold, he found it after 45 years in the water ... chances have to be one in a trillion," Thomas said.

"My parents couldn't believe it. I told my mom on the phone and she started laughing," he said.

"How exiting to return the ring 45 years after it was lost," said Knowlton, who mailed the ring to Thomas.

A lesson in persistence 

"It utterly amazes me," Thomas said. "When this gentleman called, it flabbergasted me. One thing I'm most appreciative of is the fact that he didn't give up after he found it. He worked and worked until we got ahold of each other.

"There are not a lot of people in this world like this gentleman," Thomas continued. "He's a good Christian man with a good heart to get me this ring back."

That description fits Knowlton, a member of Northern Neck Baptist Church. He used the story of finding the ring and returning it to his owner in the children's church service on Sunday, Aug. 30. He compared his experience to the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18.

"She would over and over ask for justice of a judge until he became weary of all the asking and gave justice," Knowlton said. "I liken myself to the persistent widow in trying to track down John to return his ring."

In all his years of metal detecting, Knowlton has wondered about the things he found.

"I finally got to hear the story of something that was lost," said Knowlton, who gets goosebumps every time he tells the tale.

"Don't be discouraged by a roadblock. God wants you to pursue past a roadblock," Knowlton said in his lesson about persistence and his search for the owner of the ring. Video of the lesson can be seen on the Facebook page of Northern Neck Baptist Church.

The Greencastle-Antrim High School class ring he lost 45 years ago near Martin's Mill Bridge is now back in John W. Thomas Jr.'s hands.