A long-lost treasure comes home
By Jay Gamel
While talking to my little sister Janet on her birthday this year, she said, “Hold on, there’s somebody that’s been calling me from Petaluma, saying something about you and returning something.” She connected us on a three-way call that unraveled one of the bigger mysteries of my long life. The caller said he’d found a ring that he thought belonged to my dad and he wanted to get it back to me. I remember thinking, “That’s just not possible.” In the late 1990s or early 2000s, I let some needy folks stay at my house for a week or so. As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished — one of them stole the jewelry from my bedside table, which I didn’t notice for months because I wasn’t wearing jewelry at that time. There were my two wedding rings, my father’s and my college graduation rings, an opal tie pin, a three-gold tie bar, and my father’s diamond ring, my real treasure, which came with a long story about the stone’s provenance.
Having discovered the theft so long after it happened (and I did track down when it happened), I gave up all hope of ever recovering any of those precious things — until Jan. 16 this year.
Woodrow Engle loves to find stuff, specifically metal stuff he sniffs out with a metal detector. He has had some notable successes, including my father’s 1927 graduation ring from Trinity University. It was old and beat up when I had it, and living outdoors for many years hasn’t improved it much. Woody found the ring in a small residential park in Petaluma, where he checks now and then for lost items. His dedication and tenacity in tracking me down are incredible. I’ll let him tell the story: “The visible markings I initially found were ‘Trinity’ on the ring face, a stamp for an apparently now-defunct jewelry company called Star En? Co., which led me nowhere, and the initials ‘JFG’ inside the band. There were also the letters ‘AB’ (indicating the degree) and ‘27’ (indicating the year of graduation).
“Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, being the most famous of the Trinity colleges, I started there. I found a student who had ‘JG’ initials and sent messages to some people who I believed were relatives, but got no response for about six months. Finally, I found this student’s son through an old obituary, but he got back to me saying that his father’s middle name did not begin with F, and he didn’t believe the logo was from Trinity College in Hartford.
“Now that I knew that wasn’t the correct route, I put the ring under a digital microscope I had been gifted for Christmas and was able to decipher the top of the word ‘University’ on the bottom part of the ring face. Searching ‘Trinity University’ led me to a Texas university that existed in that era, and luckily they maintained a website with digitized yearbooks running all the way back to the 1800s. I found the 1927 yearbook, went to the seniors’ section, and discovered Jay F. Gamel there, which was obviously a perfect match.
“I Googled his name and found he had passed away in 1969, and there was a picture of his grave marker in San Antonio. I then went to Facebook and searched for the last name Gamel, and found you who lived 25 miles from me and also happened to be named Jay. Scrolling through your page I found a memorial post to your father with the same grave marker I had found earlier, so now I was sure I had the right person. “I was able to find your contact info through Google, and sent messages, but I also had seen that you had lost your house earlier this year, so I wasn’t sure if that number was going to a destroyed landline. To be sure we got in touch, I found your sister through Facebook who had posted her phone number (in Austin, Texas), gave her a call (on her birthday of all days) and you know the rest of the story from there.”
Woodrow and his girlfriend Sandra Oilar are regular hikers at Sugarloaf, and he came to my new digs in Kenwood to bring me the ring, which I recognized immediately. The feeling of regaining something of my father’s I thought Engle would not accept a finder’s fee or other remuneration; he gets a huge kick out of returning lost things. He will take a modest stipend for being asked to look for a lost ring or other metallic object, but it’s the doing of the thing that motivates him. You can contact him at his Ring Finders page online: www.theringfinders. com/Woodrow.Engle. Dad’s ring is now sitting in front of my keyboard where I can look at it all day. Thank you, Woodrow Engel, for the gift of a lifetime and for being such a fine human being.
long lost was overwhelming.