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Better late than never

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 29th, 2013

Sandy Burns of Mendota shows off a class ring she found over 30 years ago in Amboy before returning it to its original owner in Garrett, Ind. (Reporter photo by Bonnie Morris)

MENDOTA – Sandy Burns of Mendota often visited her grandmother, Elsie Holbrook, in Amboy. On one such visit when she was a young teen, she found someone’s class ring at the city park. “I thought it was pretty, so I kept it,” she said.

She tucked the ring into a jewelry box. “I never even thought about trying to find the owner then. We didn’t have all the technology like we do today,” she added.

Since that day, Burns has held onto the ring, even through her moves to Florida, Texas and back to Illinois.

Recently, Burns was going through her jewelry box and came across that long lost ring. “I thought, now I’m going to try to find the owner,” she stated.

With the help of Gish Jewelry, in Mendota, Burns was able to uncover valuable information to help her in locating the owner. The Jostens’ class ring belonged to a Garrett High School Railroader, who was on the track team, had the initials EWL, graduated in 1977, and possibly had an August birthdate.

All that information was correct. Ernie Leach would soon be discovered to be the rightful owner.

Previously, Burns tried to find the owner of the ring. But by the time Leach got word through a friend that someone might have his old ring, Burns had moved away. Leach had no forwarding contact information. Dead end.

Now, five years later and back in Mendota, Burns tried again–this time with more success. She called a high school in Garrett, Ind., the only Garrett town that also named their high school teams Railroaders. The school’s superintendent looked through an old yearbook and found the only possible choice–Ernie Leach, class of ’77.

Burns did not want to just stick the ring in the mail. She wanted confirmation that it was indeed Leach’s lost ring. So she called him. Shocked and stunned at the phone call from “out of the blue,” Leach confirmed the size 11, Peridot birthstone ring.

“I was so happy that I found him,” she said.

Leach had given up any hope of ever seeing the ring again. “I couldn’t believe someone was trying so hard to find me. She has given me back a piece of history,” said Leach.

Leach moved away from the small town of Garrett, Ind. while serving eight years in the Army, but has since returned and raised his family there.

Burns got Leach’s address and mailed off her long-time treasure to him. After all this time, they both think it is destiny that the once lost ring has now been returned. “It was exactly as I remembered it,” Leach said.

Although the ring was found in Amboy, Leach never remembers being there. Perhaps the ring was lost elsewhere, picked up and accidentally dropped again at the city park.

“I remember taking a road trip to Kankakee with a bunch of friends before I joined the service,” Leach recalled. But that was as close to Amboy as he has ever been. That was back in 1980, over 30 years ago.

Leach said receiving the ring has been like a grand and glorious trip down memory lane. He has recalled his high school years, loved ones lost and found, and the adventures of his youth. “It actually got me a little teary-eyed,” he said.

Leach remembered picking out the ring with his parents, who bought the ring for him. “They have both passed away, so having this ring back is very special to me,” he said.

He plans to pass the ring down to his eldest son, also a Garrett High School graduate. The ring will not only be an heirloom, but will have a great story to go with it.

Burns was glad she pursued returning the ring when others told her to forget about it. “It made me feel good just to hear him talk about the ring. When you are a kid you don’t think about getting things back to their rightful owners. But, better late than never,” she added.

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