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Metal Detectori Entusiast Finds & Returns 1963 Class Ring
When Dan Knight found a gold Class-of-1963 ring from Merchantville High School in the drained bed of a lake in Medford NJ, he had a choice to make.
Pawn it for the precious metal, or track down the owner? For Knight, it wasn’t a choice at all.
“We have a code of ethics in the metal detecting community, and when we find something like that, we try to find the owner,” said Knight, an officer in the South Jersey Metal Detecting Club. “I’ve returned maybe about a dozen rings like this, but never something that was this old.”
It was April 6 when Knight and a friend and fellow metal detector enthusiast, Dave Tucker, came across a pair of class rings in the muddy bed of the lake on the grounds of Fellowship Alliance Chapel, which decades ago was the site of a former YMCA day camp in Medford.
Knight, a Voorhees resident who grew up in West Deptford, took responsibility for the 1963 Merchantville ring. With the only clue being the initials “V.H.C.” etched onto the ring, the search was on.
Only one problem: Merchantville High School doesn’t exist anymore, and there was no alumni association to consult for help.
“Luckily, someone scanned pages of the 1962 yearbook, and I found the only V.H.C. in the school — Vernon H. Collins,” said Knight. “It said he was a four-year swimmer, so it all fit with finding the ring in a lake.”
A quick Internet search for “Vernon H. Collins” presented Knight with his next hurdle: An obituary.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, he died,’” said Knight. “But then I looked at the age and it didn’t match up. It then occurred to me that I was looking at his father’s obit.”
It turned out the Vernon H. Collins who lost the class ring is the second in his family to carry that name. The obituary named him and his wife, Paulette, and his mother, Helen, as survivors.
Again, Knight consulted the Internet.
“I couldn’t find any Yellowpage listing for Vernon and Paulette around here, but something popped up in Arkansas,” he said. “So, I decided to call.
“There was no answer, and the answering machine message didn’t have any of their names in it, but I left a message anyway.”
He heard nothing back for a week.
Knight had actually forgotten about the search when he received a call on his cell phone while playing a round of golf.
“It was Vernon,” he said. “It turns out he was away on a trip, and when I told him I had something that may belong to him, the first thing he says is ‘It wouldn’t be my class ring would it?’”
The reason Collins could return Knight’s call for a week?
He was visiting his mother — in Merchantville.
Back in Arkansas, Collins will have to wait until his mother can take custody of the ring and mail it to him to finally see it again.
Knight said he’s meeting with her this weekend.
“I was either 18 or 19 when I lost it at the lake, while swimming,” said Collins, now 58, over the phone from his home in Russellville, Ark. “I was a camp counselor at the YMCA camp there, and I looked all around for it. My dad even came back to the lake and looked for it.”
Collins left to go to college in Arkansas after that summer. He returned for a brief time the next summer, but he eventually settled in Arkansas and never returned to the lake.
“I hated to lose it,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t lose sleep over it — I got a college ring, and moved away, but my mom always the whole time said that I would get it back at some point.”
Collins said it still seems impossible to him that Knight was able to track him down.
“It’s been 50 years,” he exclaimed.
Kudos to Dan Knight for going out of his way to return this lost ring!