Sunday, September 14, 2003
Lost Ring Revives Love Story
Memories may fade. Lives may end. Yet, a tiny ring of gold, given in love, can reinforce a familys ties across decades of time and from beyond the grave.
July 29, 2003
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeep.
Frostburg resident Steve Shaw held his metal detector steady near the base of the maple tree at Camp Potomac. Something was down there. Perhaps hed found a coin or a pocket knife. More than likely, it was an old soda can, stomped on, tossed away and forgotten.
Steve was engaging in a favorite hobby. He thrilled at finding something buried beneath the ground with his metal detector.
He set the metal detector aside and squatted next to the tree. His fingers brushed away the loose leaves and humus. When he reached the harder dirt, he dug at it with a pocket knife.
About an inch below the surface, he found a girls gold class ring. An odd find at a Boy Scout camp.
Steve brushed away the dirt to get a better look at the ring. It was from Mount Savage School, class of 1974. How had it come to be found near Oldtown almost 30 years later?
Sixteen-year-old Carlson "Bim" Lewis, Jr. crouched behind a tree and watched the four Boy Scouts on the opposing team search for a place to hide their flag.
There should have been five Scouts, though. Where was the fifth? Had he been sent to spy on where Bims team was hiding its flag just as Bim was spying on them?
He slid down the side of the tree to try and get a better view of just which bush the neckerchief was being hidden beneath.
"Spy! Spy! Its Bim!"
Bim was so startled that he slipped and fell to the ground. He rolled away from the charging Scout and got his feet beneath him. His feet found traction, and tossing up leaves and some dirt, he raced away from his opponents.
As he tore away from the tree, he didnt notice the ring he left behind on the ground. He and his girlfriend, Jeannine Witt, had exchanged class rings just a week ago in anticipation of eventually being married. Bim wore Jeannines ring on a string around his neck.
The string had snagged on the tree bark and snapped. The dirt thrown up by Bim running away fell on the ring and buried it.
Steve rinsed the dirt from the ring and studied it. Inside the ring, he could see the initials JGW.
He had nearly identified to whom the ring belonged. It wasnt even a question to him that he would have to find out who really owned this ring.
He drove up to Mount Savage School and met with Principal Gary Llewellyn. Steve had worked as an assistant principal with Llewellyn before he retired from the Allegany County public schools.
The two men pulled out a 1974 yearbook and flipped through its pages. There were 62 seniors that year and 25 young ladies. None of them had the initials JGW.
"Maybe she dropped out," Steve suggested.
"Then lets check our graduation records and see if shes listed there," Gary said.
The search through the permanent records of Mount Savage students yielded the name Jeannine Gale Witt (Lewis).
"Whats the parenthesis for?" asked Steve.
"It means she changed her name. She may have married, maybe to the boy who lost that ring," said Llewellyn.
They were young and in love. Bim was 17. Jeannine was 16. They had been dating for three years and were dedicated to each other.
They wanted to be married, but one minister wouldnt marry them because Jeannine was pregnant. Another minister thought they were too young. Finally, the minister at Mount Tabor United Methodist Church recognized their devotion to each other and their maturity.
He married them one April evening in the church filled with about 70 members of Bims and Jeannines families. Jean wore a blue wedding dress and Bim wore his best brown suit.
Bim had spent the day in nervous anticipation and excitement as he prepared to become a husband who would prove he was more responsible than the boy who lost his girlfriends class ring.
That evening, Bim slid a different gold ring on Jeannines finger, almost as if to replace the one he had lost.
Steve first checked the phone books to see if he could find a Jeannine Lewis. When that failed to yield any results, Gary Llewellyn suggested Steve contact some of the other members of Jeannines class to see if they could help.
Steve called Nancy Thoerig, a 1974 Mount Savage graduate. After introducing himself and explaining what he was doing, Steve asked, "Do you know Jeannine Lewis?"
"Yes, I knew her, but she died a few years back," Nancy told him. Jeannine had died of cancer in 1996.
The thrill of discovery that had grown in Steve with each step toward finding the rings owner withered. How could he return a ring to a dead woman?
"Can I get it back to her husband or parents?" Steve asked.
"I know her husband is dead. Jeannine was pregnant in school, though. She had a son named Adam. I dont know if he still lives in the area, but I saw a picture of an Adam Lewis in the newspaper recently. He works at the Thrasher Carriage Museum," Nancy told him.
The thrill was back.
July 4, 1972
Bim paced the waiting room at Memorial Hospital. He had been there all night and doubted that he had sat down for more than five minutes.
How could he? He was about to become a father!
Different family members came and went during the night, but Bim couldnt keep track of them. He wanted to be with Jeannine.
She had been brought into the hospital with labor pains late last night.
A few minutes after nine oclock in the morning, the doctor stepped into the waiting room.
"Mr. Lewis, your son was born at 8:59. Mother and child are doing fine," he said.
Bim nearly wept. "Can I see them?"
The doctor led him into the recovery room where Jeannine was lying on a bed holding a tiny child to her chest.A smile broke out across his face. It had all been worth it. The struggles of work and school, dealing with people who thought he was too young to be a father. It didnt mean a thing now.
All that mattered was what he could see in front of him. His wife and his son.August 2003
Adam Lewis was busy at work as the director of the Thrasher Carriage Museum when Steve walked in.
"I need to speak with Adam Lewis," Steve said.
"Youre speaking to him," Adam replied.
"I have something that might be of interest to you."
Steve reached into his pocket and withdrew the gold ring. He handed it to Adam.
Adam recognized it immediately as a girls ring. Then he noticed the school and date.
Could it be his mothers ring?
He looked inside and saw the initials JGW.
"Where did you find this?" Adam asked.
Steve told him the story of how a piece of Adams heritage had returned to him. The missing ring that had been the center of one of his mothers stories now rested in his hand.
June 4, 1973
Bim drove his motorcycle slowly down National Highway in order to keep control in the rain. He wiped at the face shield of his helmet to clear the rain off of it.
He had hoped to make it home before the rains came. Now he was drenched.
As he neared the post office, he had to squint at the headlights from oncoming traffic and someone turning out of the post office parking lot.
Bim slowed down even more. The motorcycle slid to the side. Bim tried to compensate. As he brought the motorcycle under control, taillights loomed in front of him.
He hit the brakes, knowing as he did that it was probably too hard for these weather conditions. The motorcycles front tire hit the car. Not hard, but enough to make the back end of the motorcycle jump up and hit Bim on the back of the head, throwing him forward.
Paramedics rushed Bim to Sacred Heart Hospital. Doctors operated on him, but they couldnt stop the blood loss. Bim never regained consciousness. He died around 4:30 a.m. on his high school graduation day.
The small class ring is now where it should be. It was first exchanged as an act of love between two teen-agers. Adam is a product of that same love.
The ring has come full circle. And the love remains alive.