Whitefish Bay — Dave Stewart was walking along the coastline in Kobe, Japan, when his metal detector started beeping.
What he found buried under the sand that April afternoon opened a gateway to an experience lived more than 70 years ago from 6,000 miles away, in a place he had never heard of called Whitefish Bay. It was a Whitefish Bay High School class ring from the Class of 1942, with an inscription of "BJB" on the inside of the ring.
Stewart knew he had stumbled onto an opportunity to return a nostalgic keepsake to its original owner. The ring had broken into two pieces when he picked it up, but he knew it would hold sentimental value to somebody.
"To me, seeing an important piece like that go to the owner is far more rewarding than simply having it melted, as you normally do with scrap jewelry," he said. "I also enjoy a bit of amateur genealogy so it was fun to trawl through the records."
Stewart took to the internet to see where Whitefish Bay High School was located, and if it still existed. He sent a letter to the school, but never heard back. Undeterred, he contacted someone from the Wisconsin Veteran's Society, who was able to check a Whitefish Bay yearbook from 1942. There was one person in the graduating class with matching initials: Betty Jean Blum.
"From there, I exhausted every avenue I could on the Internet trying to track down the Blum family and ended up finding old marriage records and military service records," he said.
Stewart learned that Blum had passed away in 2007, but he remained determined to finding out how a class ring from 72 years ago made its way 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. He was unable to find the names of people related to Blum or her husband, Willard Charles Weisel. Stewart contacted the North Shore NOW newspaper, where this reporter was able to get in touch with Pam, one of Blum's two daughters.
The phone call came as a bit of a shock to Pam, because the story didn't quite add up. Stewart had speculated that Blum may have lost the ring while visiting Weisel in the South Pacific during his World War II days. But Pam said she and her sister vividly remember trying on their mother's old class ring during their high school years — long after World War II.
Pam said she doesn't remember what happened to the class ring after her high school years. Later in life, Pam remembers traveling with her mother to Israel, Greece, Switzerland and Austria — but never Japan.
"My only thought is that it could've possibly been sold in the estate sale, or caught up with other things that might have been sold at the estate sale," Pam said. "I don't remember seeing it at that time, and it doesn't seem likely that someone would buy a class ring."
Although it remains a mystery as to how the ring made it from Whitefish Bay to Japan, it is finally — after all these years — returning home to Blum's family in Wisconsin. Although Pam is confused as to how the ring made it from Whitefish Bay to Japan, she said she is thrilled to have recovered a piece of her mother's life.
"I will probably never know the story of why my mother's ring washed up on the coast of Japan, but having the ring returned to me after a truly unbelievable journey will be a very special gift," she said.
Your link to the biggest stories in the suburbs delivered Thursday mornings.
Enter your e-mail address above and click "Sign Up Now!" to begin receiving your e-mail newsletter Get the Newsletter!
- Dentist plans to renovate key Whitefish Bay storefront
- Pedestrian death prompts Whitefish Bay to add new signage on Silver Spring Drive (3)
- Whitefish Bay memorializes woman killed in crosswalk (3)
- Whitefish Bay man allegedly charged officer with knives, screamed 'kill me' in officer-involved shooting (2)
- JCC Maccabi Games will bring 1,000 teen athletes to the North Shore
- Whitefish Bay police officer shoots man holding knives
- Bay Little League plans baseball-themed playground
- Three North Shore libraries join forces for "community reads" event
- Burglary suspects led police on high-speed chase through Whitefish Bay, Glendale (2)
- Burglary suspects allegedly target Bay couple at funeral