By Debbie Adams
Sometime between 1977 and 1984, Michele Ann Weiss (now Walker) lost her 1977 William Byrd High School Class Ring at a rest stop along Interstate 81. She had been traveling to visit friends and family. Her ring was too large, so she took it off each time she washed her hands. Unfortunately, that time, she forgot to put it back on. A few miles down the highway she remembered and went back, but it was too late – the ring was gone.
Here’s the story she has shared:
“My parents, sisters, and I moved to Vinton about 1975,” Walker says. “I went to William Byrd my junior and senior years. When I was a student there, I was in DECA. I went to school in the morning, was home in the afternoon, and worked evenings at Lendy’s KFC in Vinton.
“I can’t say I remember a lot about school. I was only there for two years, and only half days, so it was hard to make friends. There were many nice people, some of whom gave me rides home because I had not gotten my license yet.
“While employed there I met and dated a guy from Indiana. On several occasions we visited the state. The relationship failed, but my love for the Midwest did not. I met and married my husband of 33 years – Ed Walker. We have a daughter whom we live with and a son who lives and works in California.
“After high school graduation, I could not decide what to do with my life,” said Walker. “I spent four or five years traveling to see family and friends. I lived in New Jersey (where I was born); my grandma and other family members lived there.”
As for the lost ring, it was found by Velma Merrifield, who had no way of knowing who it belonged to or where to return it – options were limited with no Internet, Facebook, or Googling.
Her daughter-in-law Sue Merrifield says, “My late mother-in-law found the ring many years ago somewhere on a trip between New Hampshire and Florida. There was no way to search back then. The ring was put away for decades. The family had no idea even where William Byrd High School was located. We came across the ring recently and thought we would try Facebook.”
On April 17, Merrifield posted a photo of the class ring on Facebook with the message, “Trying to find the owner of a girl’s 1977 William Byrd class ring. It has initials, but we cannot access a 1977 yearbook to narrow it down. Any suggestions?”
The family located some William Byrd alumni groups, which led to the Vinton History Museum Facebook pages. The responses poured in – with so many Byrd alumni brainstorming to find the owner of the ring, and Walker with no idea of what was going on.
Merrifield identified the initials engraved inside the band – MAW – and the search became more intense. The lost and found ring became a hot topic on not just the WBHS Alumni Facebook pages, but on the Vinton History and Memories page as well.
The History Museum owns an almost complete collection of WBHS Black Swan yearbooks and took a look at the 1977 volume looking for names with the initials “MAW.”
Some thought it might be a man’s ring, but Merrifield identified it as definitely belonging to a woman, size 5 and 1/2 –“the photo just makes it look larger.”
Class of ’77 alumni Karen Jackson picked up the ball and kept the Facebook exchanges going, knowing that even with the Internet it might become frustrating for Merrifield searching from New Hampshire.
Jackson also called The Vinton Messenger, shared the story from Facebook with Editor Matt de Simone, and asked for assistance in the search – and for an article when the mystery was solved, but most of the legwork had been done by then.
The newspaper checked with the high school for information and was told by Chris Ayers, administrative assistant in the Counseling Department, “We only have current students and the previous year’s graduates at the school level now.” She referred inquiries on to Cindy Pickeral, administrative analyst for School Counseling and Student Records at Central Office, who found no information on Weiss on file either.
Strangely enough, Vinton History Museum Executive Director Judy Cunningham had just received copies of the missing 1976 and 1977 WBHS yearbooks from a patron, Caroline Forbes, which enabled her to do some research and pick out the names that might fit, including Melinda Whitlow, Myra Williamson, and even Mary Anne Wood who graduated with the Class of 1976. Mary Ann Wood Craighead noticed the post and informed everyone the ring was not hers. Alumni Terri Phlegar looked in the 1977 yearbook and found a Michele Ann Weiss as a senior that year.
Finally, the list was narrowed to that one person – Michele Ann Weiss. Through more Facebook messaging, Merrifield was able to find contact information for Michele’s mother.
Merrifield talked with Michele’s mom and then with Michele and the ring has now been put in the mail to Indiana.
“My mom, Marjorie Weiss, sold the Vinton house after Dad died and moved to Southwest Roanoke,” Walker says. “I return to Roanoke to visit my mom, my sister and nieces and nephews about twice a year. Funny thing is, I was supposed to be there over Easter but was too sick to travel. I noticed that Easter was the day Susan Packard Merrifield posted the ring on Facebook.”
The story continues, “Mom is good friends with Judy Russ. Christelle Russ Worley and Charlotte Carver asked Judy to let mom know everyone was looking for me. Only four days later the mystery was solved.”
Walker says that she moved to Indiana in 1984 and once in a while would think about the lost ring, but not lately. When her mother called about the ring, Michele was surprised to find out it had been found, and on a day when she really needed some good news. She had been experiencing some health problems and on the day her mother called she had been having some tests, but “this afternoon’s news was fun. I am amazed, laughing, and crying.”
“I think the funniest part and the most embarrassing is that because the ring was too big, I would take it off to wash my hands – so I wouldn’t lose it. Then it is lost for 45 years!”
Once Weiss was located, alumni Karen Jackson commented, “This whole experience has been mind-blowing! The power of teamwork, and all of us working for a greater good. It takes me back 45 years ago when we graduated!”
Jackson calls Merrifield a “living hero! As my pastor says, ‘People don’t have to be nice’ and you went above and beyond. In a world where people would just as soon step over you when they see you fall, thank you for reminding us that humanity is alive and well. I know your mother-in-law is smiling down with pride! You both could have just chucked the ring.”
Sue Merrifield’s husband summed it up, “Well, Mom would be happy” that the mystery was finally solved after so many years.
Walker sent a message to all who assisted in the search, “Thank you to all who helped with this real-life mystery” and sent another tidbit of information in a follow-up email.
“Just got off the phone with my mom and she tells me a story about her high school class ring,” Walker said. “She went to PK Yonge High School in Gainesville, Fla. In the 1950s she went to a party with her sister. Someone at the party asks to see her ring. She takes it off and hands it to them; they never return the ring. We had a good laugh, mother and daughter, young and doing silly things. Sometimes life is better than fiction.”