Missing class ring returned to rightful owner more than four decades later

Riner woman reunited with Shawsville High School class ring

SHAWSVILLE, Va – A missing high school class ring has been found more than four decades after it was lost in the New River Valley.

Sandra Baldwin, of Riner, lost her Shawsville High School class ring 42 years ago. She thought it was gone for good, only to recently get a call that it had be found.

She, along with the other some 50 teenagers in her graduating class, were warned by one of the high school teachers, Mrs. Verna Pearman to never give their class rings to a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Despite the warning, it was one of the first things Sandra did. 

“But typical of an 18-year-old, I handed it over,” Baldwin said.  "I lost it almost immediately in '76."

At age 18, Baldwin was then known by her maiden name, Sandy Forman. During the summer of 1976, she was in love, engaged to be married to her then fiancé, Gary. A proud Shawnee senior at Shawsville High School, she worked as a maid at Green Acres motel in Christiansburg to earn the money to pay for her class ring.

That summer, Baldwin went with her fiancée and her family to tube down the New River in Eggleston.
“We left the car, tubed for a time, then hiked back to the car via the railroad tracks.  When we got back to the car, I asked Gary about the ring, but it was gone.  We tried to walk back on the tracks, but I sadly became convinced that he had lost the ring in the New River, never again to be seen.  Though I was mad, it was mostly at myself because I had made the decision despite the wise advice I’d been given,” Baldwin recounted. 

"When it was gone I was absolutely 100 percent convinced that it was down the New River, and it was never to be seen again."

Or so she thought. Fast forward 42 years, and roughly two hours away to the Claytor Lake home of Ralph Petrone who passed away at age 99.

Left to sort through his estate, niece Gale Stowers of Newport found something curious inside a box labeled as “keep.” 

"I was going through items at his house and found this box and it had the ring in it,” Stowers said.
The box belonged to a cousin of Stowers who had passed away several years prior. That box and its contents, including Baldwin’s high school class ring, was left to Petrone. 

How it got there in the first place, Stowers said, is still a mystery.

"It had the initials in it so we started thinking about how we could find the owner,” Stowers said.

Determined, she reached out to staff at Eastern Montgomery High School, who tracked Baldwin down on social media.

The pair of strangers, still not sure how their fate was intertwined, met up to deliver the long-lost-ring.
They met at the former site of Shawsville High School that has since been converted to a middle school, and changed mascots from the Shawnees to the Mustangs. In the past 42 years, Baldwin has done a lot of living of her own. She recently retired from a teaching job with Montgomery County schools and has remarried.

She did, however, reach out to her former husband and fiancé Gary to let him know about the ring. “He referred to it as a blast from the past,” Baldwin said.


Her now-husband Sid was there for reunion. “Everyone likes a good story,” Sid said.
Baldwin was ecstatic to receive her class ring back after so long. It was just as she remembered. “I worked too hard for it to forget it,” Baldwin said.

"It's amazing. It's crazy."

Stowers was just as excited to give it back to its rightful owner.

"Very excited. Sandra was so excited it just flowed over to me,” Stowers said. Where it's been and how it got there remains a mystery.

But for now, just having it is enough.

Baldwin made a promise to Stowers before the once-strangers, now-friends departed.

“I really appreciate it, and I promise I will do my best not to lose it again,” Baldwin said.

About the Author: