United 1964 alum regains lost class ring thanks to Arizona woman
For more than three decades, Kelly White held on to a lost ring she'd found, hoping some day to return it to its rightful owner.
That day came last Friday, when Charles Krouse of Robinson slipped the United High School Class of 1964 ring back on his finger for the first time since 1981.
“I'd given up a long time ago on ever seeing this again,” said an emotional Krouse, 70, as White returned the keepsake to him at the United High School office.
“I just can't get over it. I can't thank you enough. You people are so terrific,” he told White and her husband, Doug, of Phoenix, Ariz.
“This is the highlight of my year,” White said of her success in finally reuniting the black onyx ring and its owner.
White noted previous generations of her family hailed from the Ligonier area, and that's where she was living as a teen, in 1981, when she came upon the school ring that would turn out to be Krouse's.
“I remember exactly when I found it,” White said. Soon to graduate from Ligonier Valley High School, she found the ring during the Fort Ligonier Days Festival, while she was rearranging clothing for sale as part of her job at Ligonier's G.C. Murphy variety store.
“I turned it into their lost-and-found. After 30 days, when no one claimed it, they gave it back to me,” she recalled of the ring. “I've had it since 1981. I always intended to give it back.”
“United” appears in lettering on the ring, but White, at the time, was unaware that the name referred to a neighboring school district to the north. With no Internet at the time to assist with a search, she simply hung on to the ring and,when she settled with her husband in Arizona, placed it in a safe.
When she knew that she would be making a trip back to Westmoreland County this past week, White was determined to finally track down the ring's owner and return it. Navigating to the website for United High School, she e-mailed an inquiry to Patricia Berezansky — United's director of education and acting high school principal, who played a key role in making the connections that brought the ring back into Krouse's hands.
“It's a small world,” Berezansky said, explaining that she is related by marriage to Krouse's family: “He's my sister-in-law's brother.”
Berezansky noted how admirable it was that White conscientiously held on to Krouse's ring for so many years when she might have chosen to sell it for its gold value or otherwise dispose of it.
“Good stories like this need to be celebrated,” she said. “It's a mini miracle.”
When White e-mailed a photo of the ring to Berezansky, the United administrator quickly recognized it as an old United class ring. She noted that her mother, who graduated from the school in 1957, had a similar one.
Berezansky pointed out that the school shield reproduced on the ring includes a distinctive symbol that stands for several previous area schools that consolidated to form the United district.
There was a false start, though, in identifying the ring's owner, whose inscribed initials weren't completely clear.
Checking the list of seniors in the 1964 edition of the school's yearbook, “La Vista,” Berezansky also called upon the memories of others — including recently retired United athletic director Harold Hixson, a member of that graduating class.
The ring researchers first thought the initials read “C.A.H.” When those letters failed to match up with anyone who was missing a ring, Berezansky took a second look and realized the letters could be “C.A.K.”
Acting on a hunch, she contacted her sister-in-law, Rose Gehring, who revealed that Krouse's middle name is Albert. All the pieces fell into place, and Berezansky realized the quest to find the ring owner was leading to her own extended family circle.
“I got chills all up and down my body,” contemplating the coincidence, she said.
Her conclusion about the ring's ownership was confirmed when Krouse, questioned about the long-lost piece of jewelry, “described it to a ‘T.'”
“I love that it still fits,” White said, after Krouse put the returned ring on his finger. “It was worth 10 times what it took for us to get it back to you.”
The ring holds much sentimental value for Krouse, tied to memories of his school days, when he was part of United's theatrical stage crew and participated in intramural athletics.
Krouse noted the class ring also meants a lot to him because of the effort he put in to obtaining it in the first place: “It was a big deal for me back then.”
Since he came from a large family, his parents couldn't afford the expense of a ring and he had to raise the money for it himself.
After selecting the ring design he preferred, Krouse discovered it was the most expensive being offered.
“It cost $38 back then,” he said, noting he worked at a local bowling alley to earn money for the purchase. “It took me a year to pay for it.”
Though he's not sure of the details of how he lost his ring more than 30 years ago, Krouse said White's account of finding it fits with his shopping habits at the time. He recalled that he would travel to the G.C. Murphy store because it carried better brands of men's shirts that he preferred.
When he discovered he'd lost the ring, he said, “I was extremely disappointed. I didn't now what to do.”
“I probably found it the same day you lost it,” White told Krouse, supposing that if the ring had been lying loose among the store's merchandise for any great length of time, another shopper likely would have happened upon it.
Bailee Gehring, a junior at United High School and Krouse's niece, stopped at the school office last Friday to admire her uncle's restored ring and to give him an affectionate hug.
“That's so impressive,” she said of the ring.
In eighth grade, she chose to write about her uncle for a class project when asked to create an essay about someone who inspired her. United staff judged it among the best essays submitted that year, and Bailee Gehring read it aloud to her uncle and schoolmates at an assembly.
Retired after 38 years working in coal mines, Krouse has been blessed with a family that includes two children, seven grandchildren and a 3-year-old great-granddaughter. But he has been challenged by serious health and medical struggles over the past several years.
He noted he suffered head, neck and collar bone injuries as well as broken ribs and internal bleeding in a 2005 accident. “Practically all the bones in my body were broken,” he said.
He's also had a hip replaced and underwent surgery on a wrist and knee. In addition, he must undergo dialysis three times a week.
Still, he feels lucky to be alive and sees the return of his ring — something he'd never though possible — as a positive sign.
“It's so hard to believe,” he said.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.