When Ruth Ann Miller’s class ring went missing on a Florida beach more than 20 years ago, she was certain it was gone for good.
The 1961 Lemont Township High School graduate had given the ring to her teenage daughter, Amy Schlueter Smith, who lost it during a trip to St. Petersburg, FL, with her aunt and cousin.
“Amy graduated from Lemont in 1989 and had lost her own ring around that time, so I told her she could wear mine,” said Miller (nee Eilts). “She went to Florida not long after graduating, and somehow lost my ring on the beach. She was so devastated that I couldn't even be mad at her.
"I just assumed it was gone forever and moved on."
A few weeks ago, however, Miller received the surprise of a lifetime. Her ring—now 50 years old—was no longer lost on a Florida beach, but tucked away in a jewelry box in Pueblo, CO.
"It turns out the ring traveled almost 2,000 miles from where it was lost," Miller said. "I was stunned."
In 1991, Colorado native Charlene Sullivan stayed at the same St. Petersburg hotel where Miller's ring went missing not long before. On the final day of her trip, Sullivan noticed a small object in the sand — a gold high school ring with a blue setting and the initials “R.E.” and "1961" etched on the sides.
In a rush to catch her flight, Sullivan chose to keep the ring and leave her phone number with the hotel.
“I didn't think the people at the hotel would do anything with it if I left it there, so I thought maybe I could try to track down the owner myself," Sullivan said.
In a pre-Google world, the task proved difficult.
"You have to think about technology 15 or 20 years ago," Sullivan said. "I thought about trying to track down the owner many times, but I was never sure how to do it. The only clues I had were the initials, the year and the fact that it was from Lemont, which I thought was a town in Florida at the time."
Last month, Sullivan was finally resolved to do everything possible to find the owner.
"Because 20 years had passed, my husband suggested that I sell the ring, but I didn't feel right about it," she said. "I'm sentimental. I knew that ring held a lot of memories for someone."
As it turns out, there is only one Lemont High School in the United States. After a few unsuccessful attempts at accessing an alumni directory, Sullivan reached out to District 210 Superintendent Sandra Doebert for help.
Using the description of the ring, Doebert looked in the school's 1961 yearbook and found only one student with the initials "R.E." — Ruth Ann Eilts.
With the help of Lemont High School alumna Judy Wilson, Doebert was able to track down Miller in Florida, where she has been living since 1996.
Sullivan and Miller became fast friends over the phone, and the ring was returned earlier this month.
"I was just so surprised that this 50-year-old ring was actually found and that I got it back," Miller said. "It took persistence to find me — Charlene had to find the school, Sandy had to track me down. I’m amazed at the efforts everyone put into this.”
Miller's daughter, Amy, said she felt relieved when she heard the ring was found.
"I remember feeling so bad when I lost it, so to have it returned to my mother after all these years is such a neat thing," she said.
When the ring finally arrived at Miller's home in Florida, she was transported right back to Lemont, she said.
During her time at Lemont Township High School, she was involved in a number of activities, including the school newspaper, band, theater, National Honor Society and bowling. She was named "Best Dressed" by her classmates, and was given the "Betty Crocker Homemaker Award."
Miller's parents also graduated from Lemont, as did her children. Her grandchildren mark the fourth generation of Eilts to attend the school, she said.
Through the process of returning the ring, Doebert learned that she and Miller's family attended the same Lemont church, Bethany Lutheran, and that she actually sang in Amy's wedding.
"It causes me to realize what a small world it is," Doebert said. "It has been a real pleasure to be a part of this heartwarming story."
Miller said she hopes to meet Sullivan in person one day so she can thank her again for her kindness.
“I don’t think either of us dreamed it would ever be returned," Miller said. "It’s just one of those crazy, amazing things in life, and I feel very grateful to have it back.”