About a year and a half ago, retired Virginia probation and parole officer Robert O’Neal, a Draper resident who enjoys metal detecting as a hobby, found Dublin High School graduate Lillian Lyons’ class ring while engaged in his hobby.
Lyons, who was married under the name Thomas and living in Mount Jackson, was pleased and surprised to see her ring again, after losing it 54 years earlier during a volleyball game in her yard. Lyons was contacted by Virginia Louise King Ezzell, a DHS 1959 graduate, who found her through the reunion committee.
Now a graduate of Draper High School had his class ring returned to him after losing it, he believes, about a month after his 1934 graduation.
Draper resident B. M. Chumbley lives in the house where he was born in 1916, next to the Methodist church. Seventy nine years ago, he graduated from Draper High School as the class salutatorian.
He reckons it was about a month later when he realized he’d lost his class ring, which was 10 carat gold and had a blue stone and graceful detailing, with his initials etched inside the band.
“I don’t recall what impression I had. I imagine I was upset about it,” says Chumbley, now 97. “I’d thought I’d lost it swimming. We used to go swimming in Max Creek. Several of us went up there and looked for it, but of course,” he chuckles, “none of us found it.”
“My friend Charlie Smith and I just stopped by here one day,” O’Neal says, indicating Chumbley’s home. “We were looking for older homes in the Draper area to metal detect. We’ve probably metal detected every home up through this neighborhood. If you find a home at least 60 years old or older, the likelihood of finding something is better.” As for Chumbley, says O’Neal, “I’d heard of him but I didn’t know him.”
As always, O’Neal and Smith obtained permission before plumbing the yard for metal, a practice O’Neal fondly refers to as “dirt fishing.”
“As metal detectors, we have a code of ethics that we go by, which is that if someone lets us use their yard, we will carry off all the trash that we find,” O’Neal explains. “And if we find anything good, we’ll show them.” They even dig carefully, creating three-sided plugs and replacing them so well when they’re done, says O’Neal, it’s hard to tell anyone’s been digging.
He also points out that his metal detecting is for fun, not profit. Most of what he finds is junk, he says. He has a 30 gallon trashcan full of rubbish from his searches, piled with items like bottlecaps and soda can shards.
“I didn’t know anything about the class ring at the time; I was just metal detecting in the yard,” O’Neal recalls. “We’d asked permission and stopped here a couple of times and found a couple different coins.” O’Neal says he was using a Minelab E-Trac detector at the time.
O’Neal found a penny – then turned up something else.
Examining it, O’Neal says, “I thought, ‘Well, here’s a piece of gold. I’m going to take it home and clean it up and see what it is.’ I got it home and cleaned it up. It showed ’1934.’ I saw the initials in it: ‘BMC.’ And I thought, ‘That’s Mr. Chumbley’s class ring!’ I didn’t know he’d lost it at the time.”
At the same time, however, O’Neal was sick and didn’t want to bring his illness on Chumbley. After a month, he was well enough to pay a visit.
“I finally came by and said, ‘Mr. Chumbley, did you lose something? A ring or anything?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, I lost my class ring.’ And I said, ‘Well, guess what? I found it for you, right out here under these two walnut trees. And he got all happy about it. He said, ‘I thought I lost that thing in Max Creek when I was swimming!’”
Though the ring’s stone is missing, Chumbley has no complaints. “I was elated!” said Chumbley. “I thanked him and told him I felt like I needed to give him something, and he said no, he didn’t want anything like that.”
“It’s not a profitable hobby, but it’s definitely a fulfilling hobby,” grinned O’Neal. “To be able to return something to someone that they have lost decades ago is worth its weight in gold, as far as I’m concerned. I plan to go back looking again to see if I can locate the stone. I’m going to keep looking until I find it for him.”