Verona Press - 11/27/2014
X marks the spot
Wedding ring found after 8 years in alley of Wildcat Lanes
Unified Newspaper Group
Wildcat Lanes has been the site of a hidden treasure for nearly eight years.
While bowling balls continuously crashed into pins, a wedding ring was tucked away under one of the lanes.
The ring wasn’t placed there on purpose, though, and its owners who held the map – which was really just a vague memory – had all but given up hope of finding it.
That was, however, until Nov. 8, when a volunteer discovered the ring in a concrete gutter while helping Sugar River United Methodist Church clean up its future sanctuary.
But the story starts on a chilly evening, eight years ago. As newlyweds residing in Oregon, Justin and Becky Blair often came to Verona to visit with friends. One night, Justin went to Wildcat Lanes for his bowling league, hoping to get some strikes.
Instead, he ended up striking out.
When the left-handed bowler released a practice ball, his wedding ring slipped off his cold finger and skipped across the lanes. Play was halted while bowlers helped him look for it, but after a half-hour of fruitless searching, they feared it had fallen down into one of the lanes.
Becky had been in the shower when Justin left her a voicemail telling her he would be late coming home because he lost his wedding ring.
“I was really just mostly shocked,” Becky recalled. “But then when it actually hit me the next day I cried a lot. I was just devastated. I don’t know why it mattered so much at the time. (It was) the one thing I had given him.”
Justin, though upset, reacted differently, she said.
“He’s a very rational human being, so he felt awful, but there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening at that point,” Becky said. “Now we had to address how to fix it.”
The next day, they went to the bowling alley to look again and see if anyone had any suggestions for searching. But no luck. Still, Becky was determined to claim Justin as her husband – with or without a ring.
“We were actually headed to a tattoo parlor, because I was going to make him get his finger tattooed,” Becky laughed. “We were young … He was 23 and I was 21 when we got married. He’s the greatest thing in the world and I want everybody to know that he’s taken.”
Justin convinced Becky that perhaps a tattoo wasn’t the best choice, so the lovebirds compromised and rushed off to the mall to buy a replacement ring in the meantime.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, so we went over to West Towne Mall, and there was a jewelry shop … and we bought him an $18 wedding ring,” Becky said. “He’s been wearing that ever since. He never lost that one.”
One of a kind
That cheap “piece of metal” contrasted sharply to Justin’s original wedding ring, though. His white gold ring had three sapphires and was custom made to match Becky’s, which had a sapphire and two diamonds.
To remember their wedding song, “Forever and For Always” by Shania Twain, his ring was engraved with “For Always” and hers with “Forever.”
“So (it’s) pretty easy once you actually find the wedding ring, you know, that it’s his,” she said.
The hard part was actually finding this “diamond in the rough,” or, more accurately, this “sapphire in the alley.” Since the bowling alley did lane cleaning once a year, the owners said they would let the Blairs know if the ring turned up.
“Every year I would call … and I did that for about two or three years and then stopped, (figuring) the ring is never going to get found,” Becky said.
Justin took a different approach. He had a feeling the ring might have been snatched up and pawned off. What he learned later didn’t make him feel any better, though.
“I spent the next few years stopping into every pawn store and jewelry store I came across in the hopes of seeing it behind the glass,” Justin said in an email to the Press. “After many disappointing trips around the county, I stopped into a pawn store in Monona and described the ring to the clerk. He said he hadn’t seen it, but if he had, it would have been melted down by now.”
This had been during the “Millennial Gold Rush,” when gold peaked at quadruple the value, and anything with a hint of gold in it was getting melted down and sold, he explained. Crushed, he set out to buy an exact replica.
“I looked into it a handful of times, but with that new price of gold, I just couldn’t pull the trigger and spend two or three times what I originally paid for it,” Justin said.
They decided not to dwell on the fact that they couldn’t find the original. But when word of Sugar River UMC’s renovation of the former Wildcat Lanes reached the Blairs this summer, the couple thought they might finally have another chance at finding it.
On a whim, Becky emailed the church on Sept. 15, congratulating them on the move and making somewhat of an odd request. She explained how her husband lost the ring while bowling and asked if they could keep an eye out for it when the lanes were being torn up.
“All of the men there that night, knowing how a new bride would react to her husband losing his wedding ring, stopped and searched for the ring. They believe they heard it skip down lanes 6, 7 or 8,” she wrote. “My husband and I have been married over 9 years now, so I know it’s a stretch that it would ever be found, but, if I don’t mention it I will forever wonder if it could have been found.”
Always keeping the ring in the back of their minds, volunteers continued cleaning the new church and demolishing the lanes this fall.
“I really didn’t think anything would come out of it,” Becky said.
But on Saturday, Nov. 8, the unthinkable happened. Aaliyah Mundt-Beasley, a freshman at Verona Area High School, was volunteering at the church for the first time that day. She was told to keep an eye out for the missing ring while cleaning.
She had been using a metal detector on the lanes and spotted the ring in the right gutter of lane 7.
“I just saw it in the lane,” she said. “I was kind of surprised, and I just asked if that’s what it looked like and they said yeah.”
The gutters had been removed, so only the concrete grooves were showing on either side of the wooden lanes. While the left sides are only six inches deep, the right sides drop down about a foot-and-a-half – plenty of space to hide for a small ring.
The Blairs were making breakfast with their 4-year-old son, James, when Becky received an email from the church with an “urgent message” that their wedding ring had been found.
“I just kept laughing and giggling,” Becky said. “It was just giddy excitement because it’s just such a crazy thing that we actually ever could have gotten that back. I really never thought we’d see it again, and especially after eight years – it never seemed possible.”
Becky said her husband was just as excited, and they were grateful the volunteers at the church took the time to look for it.
“They really could have never said anything and not worried about it,” she said. “So really, the opportunity that it would have ever been found had they not been tearing up the lanes, there’s just no way it would have been able to be pulled out. It was in a ditch.”
The Blairs picked up the ring at the church and former bowling alley the next day, Sunday, Nov. 9.
“It was in really good condition, because it’s just been hiding underneath some dust for eight years. So it’s in better condition than had he been wearing it,” Becky said.
To prevent Justin’s ring from falling off in the future, they immediately got it resized smaller. Since at the time of their marriage they bought lifetime warranties for the rings, everything was covered.
“They cleaned it all up and there’s not a scratch or anything on it,” she said. “It’s beautiful and shiny.”
The Blairs were going to drive back to their home in Madison but decided to make a stop at Becky’s grandmother’s house to share the story, since her parents and other family members were there for lunch.
She called her mom and said, “We’ve got something to show you guys.”
Her mother responded, “It’s not possible for you to be pregnant again.”
Becky, who is soon expecting their second child, laughed as she recalled the exchange. “And I said, ‘No, it’s actually our wedding ring.’ And everybody was just shocked. My grandma just kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you found his wedding ring. Eight years!’ She just couldn’t get over it.”