Fate returns lost 1977 JHS class ring to owner


JASPER — Do you believe in fate?

If you ask him, it was fate that led Jasper native and current Florida resident Len Durcholz to spending extra, unplanned time in Jasper. Fate that led him to grab his metal detector and peruse the area near the playground on the Holy Trinity Catholic School grounds near Holy Family Catholic church. And fate that he would ultimately dig up Steve Lechner’s Jasper High School class ring and return it to its owner 40 years after it was misplaced.

“The thrill is always in hearing that sound and knowing there’s something there,” Durcholz said of metal-detecting. But this time, the thrill went beyond the sound and was also strengthened by returning a piece of treasure to someone Durcholz has known for most his life.

The 1977 class ring

Lechner’s best guess is that he left the ring on the hood of his truck while playing a game of pickup football in 1976. Durcholz dug up the ring more than four decades later.

The Florida man avidly treasure hunts with his metal detector — he’s uncovered over 1,300 coins and various other pieces of jewelry while wandering with the device on Florida beaches and other areas he’s visited.

Happening across an object as valuable as Lechner’s class ring is rare enough, but how Durcholz even wound up in Dubois County that day is sort of a long story.

He and his wife, Sharon, returned to Jasper Aug. 28, from their home in The Villages, Florida, for the Jasper High School Class of 1967 reunion on Sept. 2. After the celebration, the two spent time in Stendal with Durcholz’s nephew, Jeff Sermersheim, and his wife, Patty. They left to return to Florida Sept. 6, but after reaching their hotel just south of Atlanta, updated information on the tracking of Hurricane Irma raised concerns about the dangers of the couple continuing home.

The next morning, they decided to return to Jasper and wait out the storm. While staying with his sister-in-law, Janice Durcholz, Len decided to do some searching at his old elementary school, and the ring was pulled from the ground through 4 inches of dirt. Durcholz plucked the ring from the earth on Sept. 10.

After finding the ring and noticing the “SHL” initials and 1977 date on it, Durcholz planned to go to the Jasper Library and sift through names in the 1977 Jasper High School yearbook to try to find potential owners. But before he went, he said he acted on a hunch and called an old friend of his, Jeff Lechner.

Durcholz worked for Jeff’s dad at the Linus L. Lechner Tile Company as a teenager. He often ate dinner with the family after work, and he remembered the Lechners had a boy named Steve who was about 10 years younger than him. Durcholz asked Jeff three questions — Jeff confirmed that Steve graduated in 1977, had the initials “SHL” and that his brother had lost his class ring.

“I knew it was lost, but I didn’t know exactly where,” said Steve Lechner, who lives in Ferdinand. “It kind of surprised me somebody found it.”

Durcholz didn’t think about keeping the ring for a split second. He said it’s part of his code to return what he finds to owners if he can.

Lechner did purchase another class ring after losing the one Durcholz recovered, so now he has two. When he tells people the story, they just laugh.

“You gotta be kidding me” is a common reaction to the tale of twists. Lechner is just grateful the ring finally popped up.

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