Class ring missing for 52 years returned to owner

Walter Dray Sr. of Davenport wears his 1940 class ring from the University of Notre Dame, which went missing for 52 years.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Walter Dray Sr. treasured his 1940 University of Notre Dame class ring and even wore it in place of a wedding ring with his wife Peg’s blessings.

When the Davenport businessman and father of eight lost the ring in 1957 in the bottom of a Wisconsin lake, he was heartbroken. But Peg assured him the ring eventually would be found.

She was right, but didn’t live to see the joy the ring’s return would bring to her husband. Fifty-two years after it disappeared, the ring is back on Dray’s finger. He believes it’s a gift from his late wife, with God’s blessings.

“The whole thing is sort of miraculous,” says Dray, happily wearing the gold ring with a blue stone during an interview with The Catholic Messenger this week.

How he and his ring were reunited is a story within a story.

Years ago, a Wisconsin retiree named John MacDonald took up a metal-detecting hobby and found numerous pieces of jewelry combing beaches and lake bottoms. MacDonald died years ago and the jewelry sat in his wife’s closet, said their son, Drew MacDonald, a real estate planning attorney in Appleton, Wis. He began a quest to find the owners of the long-lost heirlooms that were traceable.

“I help people plan for their family heirlooms to be passed on to the next generation and here I am sitting with a box of heirlooms and I want to get them back to their owners,” he told The Catholic Messenger.

“Walter Dray Class of 1940” was etched on the inside of Dray’s ring. So MacDonald contacted the Notre Dame Alumni Association in early July inquiring about the ring’s owner.

“They said, to my surprise, that the gentleman who graduated in 1940 was still alive and they asked if he could give me a call.”

Dray called MacDonald on July 8.

“He was so incredibly happy you couldn’t believe it,” MacDonald said. “His faith that he was going to get this ring back was incredible … he was under the complete belief that his wife helped guide it back home to him.”

So far, no one else who has claimed a ring from MacDonald’s collection had one missing as long as Dray.

The recovery of Dray’s ring gives him a comforting sense of Peg. Longtime members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, they had been married 66 years when she died in October 2007. They met when he was a senior at Notre Dame and she was a senior at neighboring St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind., and married a year after graduation. He worked at Bendix Corp., retiring in 1980.

During a family outing in 1957 to a Wisconsin lake, he lost the class ring while swimming and snorkeling with his kids. They wanted to get a replacement ring for Dray, but his wife advised against it.

“Peg said, ‘You’re going to find that ring. Some day it’s going to come back.’ And here it is more than 50 years and it came back!” Dray says. “My kids say that’s Peg’s gift. She wanted to give me a gift. That’s the way I feel about it. This was a gift from Peg.”

So far, no one else who has claimed a ring from MacDonald’s collection had one missing as long as Dray.

The recovery of Dray’s ring gives him a comforting sense of Peg. Longtime members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, they had been married 66 years when she died in October 2007. They met when he was a senior at Notre Dame and she was a senior at neighboring St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Ind., and married a year after graduation. He worked at Bendix Corp., retiring in 1980.

During a family outing in 1957 to a Wisconsin lake, he lost the class ring while swimming and snorkeling with his kids. They wanted to get a replacement ring for Dray, but his wife advised against it.

“Peg said, ‘You’re going to find that ring. Some day it’s going to come back.’ And here it is more than 50 years and it came back!” Dray says. “My kids say that’s Peg’s gift. She wanted to give me a gift. That’s the way I feel about it. This was a gift from Peg.”

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