A mystery that began with a man finding a high school class ring in an old locker at Drury University has been solved.
Steve Miller works for Community Partnership of the Ozarks. A few years ago, he was helping the nonprofit get ready for an indoor golf fundraiser at a warehouse on the Drury campus. He was moving some old lockers.
"And I just heard that ching, ching, ching, ching, you know, and you think, 'what was that? Money or, you know,' said Miller. "So, I opened up the door, and this girl's class ring fell out of it."
His coworkers joked that he should take the gold ring to a pawnshop. But Miller, who loves a good story, decided it would be fun if he could find the ring’s owner.
"I looked for the high school that was on the ring. I tried to match the initials with a classmate, you know, and I'm not a very good detective," he said. And I set the ring aside."
Miller got busy with work and with the Moon City Creative District, which he’s involved in, and he forgot about the ring. That is until last year—about four years after it fell out of the locker at Drury.
"I was going through, you know, those coffee cups or glasses that you have on top of the microwave or in the kitchen that you put spare change or keys or who knows what's in it? You know, a tooth from your kid when they were three, something, and I was like, 'there's that class ring,'" he said.
Determination renewed, he decided once again to find the ring’s owner.
He invited a friend, Ed Derr who works as a counselor at Drury, to have coffee. As they sat outside Big Momma’s on Commercial Street last fall, Miller told Derr what he knew. The ring had the name of a school, Wirt High School, the initials, P.B., and the year of graduation, 1966.
Derr said he loves a good mystery and he was up for some fun, especially in the midst of a pandemic, so he readily agreed to see what he could do.
"So, feeling, you know, a little like the Hardy Boys I guess you'd say, my first call here on campus was to my friend, the campus registrar, Salia Manis," said Derr.
Manis has access to alumni transcripts, and she agreed to help. She typed the information they had gotten from the class ring into the archives, and she found a report.
"By golly, and if it didn't have Paula Sue Brogno, Wirt High School, 1966, Gary, Indiana and that she graduated from Drury in 1970 with a Bachelors of Science degree in elementary education," Derr said.
Drury stays in contact with its alumni, so Manis was able to give Derr what she believed to be the current phone number of the ring’s owner. He contacted Miller right away.
"Oh, I texted him immediately," said Derr. "And, you know, again, I think we were kind of into it. We were like, 'hey. We're solving this mystery that we thought could be kind of hard but turned out to be kind of easy."
Derr wanted Miller to be the one to share the good news about finding the ring with its owner, Paula Singervalt who lives in Tucson, Arizona, so he left a vague message, said he was with Drury and left a number to call him back. But she didn’t call back. Singervalt said she thought it was someone asking for money.
"And, so, I suppose anymore these days there are fundraising calls that are made, and maybe people aren't so interested in that, but I was persistent," Derr said. "I called again, and I did get her and then I was able to connect those dots about the ring."
Derr gave Singervalt Miller’s contact information, and Miller was excited to hear from her, but it was a few weeks later before he finally got a call. She had misplaced Miller’s number until she was cleaning out her purse and found it.
"And we had a nice pleasant conversation--when did I attend Drury? What was my experience, which I had a wonderful experience there, and I majored in elementary education" she said. I did my student teaching at Fairbanks School, and I left because I had all my credits at the end of 1969."
Singervalt began her college education at a state teachers’ college in Indiana, but she transferred to Drury because it was a much smaller school. That education would lead to a 34-year career in teaching.
Singervalt said the experience with the ring brought back warm memories from her time at Drury, from 1967 to 1969.
"It was a wonderful time in my life," she said, "and I loved living at Smith Hall, which is where I lived in that dorm for three years, and I went to summer school there. And I also feel that it was a nice connection to have with Drury."
Miller mailed the ring to Tucson, and it arrived at Singervalt’s house just after Christmas. She was surprised that, more than 50 years later, it still fit.
"I wear the ring off and on, and I show it to people, and they're just amazed," said Singervalt. "So, it's been a wonderful experience knowing that, you know, he (Mller) took the time and other people at Drury took the time to find me, and I really appreciate it."
Singervalt doesn’t remember losing the ring, and she didn’t even think about it after the day she left it in the locker. She wonders if she might have set it there while she took a swim class at Drury, but she isn’t sure exactly how it ended up in the locker, likely untouched for more than five decades.
Miller feels lucky to have been the one to find it and to be part of reuniting the ring with its owner.
"The chances of that locker still being around, you know, it's so coincidental," he said. "All the stars have to align for something like this to happen. It feels good knowing that somebody gets a piece of their unexpected history back."
Miller and Singervalt have spoken two or three times since they were first connected and have exchanged emails.
Reporter: "So , a new friendship came out of this, too, it sounds like."
"Yes, a wonderful new friendship," said Singervalt. "You know, the Springfield-kind of hospitality that we don't quite have in other places in the United States."
The locker where the ring was found has a new home now, too. It’s in one of Miller’s friend’s home being used as storage in a laundry room.