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Thanks to three strangers, man gets back high school class ring lost nearly 45 years ago

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/10/2021 Navya Gupta, Chicago Tribune
a hand holding a half eaten apple: Mike Counter, head of media relations for St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, holds a 1976 Holy Cross High School class ring belonging to John Daciolas. Counter, a metal-detecting enthusiast, found the ring on the St. Norbert campus recently, 45 years afer Daciolas lost the ring in the snow. © Mike Counter/TNS Mike Counter, head of media relations for St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, holds a 1976 Holy Cross High School class ring belonging to John Daciolas. Counter, a metal-detecting enthusiast, found the ring on the St. Norbert campus recently, 45 years afer Daciolas lost the ring in the snow.

John Daciolas distinctly remembers the night he lost his high school class ring.

He was walking to his dorm at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, with a group of friends after grabbing some food.

“It was snowing outside. There was probably if I were to guess, 3 to 5 inches of snow on the ground,” Daciolas said. “One of the girls happened to fall down into the snow. I helped her up, out of the snow. Within a minute or two I noticed my ring was missing.”

Daciolas and his friends dug around for it that day, but didn’t find it. They returned a few days later once the snow had melted and searched again, but to no avail.

The ring was lost forever, or at least that’s what Daciolas thought.

That was in 1976. Forty-five years later, Daciolas expects to be reunited with his ring this week.

The ring’s journey back to Daciolas began May 29 when Mike Counter, head of media relations for St. Norbert College, was metal detecting near the Fox River, behind one of the college’s residence halls.

“I was just finding a few coins here and there and then I got a signal of 20 to 21 which is normally a signal of a zinc penny but the tone sounded a little better,” Counter said. “I thought it’s not another zinc penny, this tone sounds too good. I’m going to dig it.”

Counter unearthed the ring.

“I could see the shiny gold,” Counter said. “It looked like it was dropped yesterday.”

Counter’s first lead on the owner of the ring was the name “Holy Cross High School” and the number “76″ engraved on the ring. His second lead was the initials “JRD” inscribed on the ring.

“I saw the initials ‘JRD’ and thought I’m going to go home and dig up a little history, do a little work on it,” Counter said. “That’s the part of metal detecting I love, the history part of it. You find things, you don’t know exactly what they are or where they came from and you wonder who dropped it and things like that.”

Counter’s mind was made up. He was going to try to find the person who had lost this ring.

He first dug into finding the location of Holy Cross High School and found a school of that name in River Grove that had closed in 2004 and become a part of Guerin College Preparatory High School which itself closed in 2020.

“It would have been easy to locate the owner of the ring by simply calling the school and asking them to look through their records or a 1976 yearbook and track down the ring’s owner,” Counter said. “But nothing is ever that easy.”

Counter then reached out to Andrew Caldie, a researcher for the college’s fundraising department, , who found that Guerin Prep had been run by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

“I thought if anyone had the records of students at Holy Cross it would be them,” Caldie said. “That’s when I found Sister Jeanne who was listed as the contact for anybody who had attended or graduated from Guerin.”

Caldie emailed Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, who had been the principal of Guerin Prep, in hopes of finding the owner of the ring.

Hagelskamp dug into the Holy Cross alumni records for the class of 1976 and found Daciolas, who was the only student in his class with the initials “JRD.”

“Providentially, John had been in contact with us in 2018, so his contact information was up to date,” Hagelskamp said. “I was able to send him an email asking if he had by any chance lost his class ring.”

When Daciolas, who lived in the Galewood neighborhood when he was in high school, saw the email from Hagelskamp he was overwhelmed.

“I almost deleted it. I couldn’t believe it.” Daciolas said. “It stopped my heart for a second.”

He said the ring was a special part of his history that he thought was gone forever.

“I am extremely grateful to these three people who cared enough to make it their mission to track me down,” Daciolas said. “It brought back great memories from a very special part of my life.”

Daciolas, who moved from Chicago to California in the early 1980s, was in Chicago to visit family the same week Counter found the ring.

“I drove by the high school because I knew it was scheduled for demolition soon,” Daciolas said. “I thought of my ring and I was kind of sad for a second. Two days late Mike found the ring and a few days later Sister Jeanne contacts me with the email. What a coincidence.”

Counter shipped the ring to Daciolas on Monday, and he was expected to receive the ring by the end of the week.

“Many of the items we find metal detecting can’t be returned,” Counter said. “So to be able to return this ring to John, who lost it 45 years ago, means everything to me. You can’t put a price on it.”

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