GARNER — Marvin Kirby finds all kinds of stuff when he pulls out his metal detector and trains it on different spots around Lake Benson Park.
But one recent find sent him off on a search for the owner of a missing high school class ring.
The owner, it turns out, wasn’t too far away. Mark Phillips has lived in Alexandria, Va since 2003. He lost the 1980 class ring from Shawnee Mission West High School in Overland Park, Kan. sometime in the mid-80s, while he was stationed at Lejeune.
“I wore it all the time,” Phillips said, “and one day I realized it was gone. I looked everwhere for it, but I never found it.
How the ring ended up in Garner remains a mystery – Phillips said he’s never been to Garner before in his life – but when he visited the Wake County town last weekend, he was genuinely glad to see it again.
After he graduated from Shawnee Mission West in 1980, Phillips joined the Marines. One of his duty stations brought him to North Carolina’s Camp Lejuene
Kirby found the ring Oct. 8 while he was out on a metal-detecting expedition at the park.
Kirby, who lives between Garner and Fuquay-Varina, said he likes searching at Lake Benson because the town will allow him to dig up the ground when he finds something – as long as he replaces the dirt when he’s finished.
He found the ring about buried under about four inches of dirt near a children’s playground.
“You find a lot of pull-top can lids out here,” Kirby said, “so it was nice to find something like this.”
Kirby showed the ring to a friend, Todd Ehling, who suggested Kirby look for the rightful owner.
That set in a motion an effort that started with Shawnee Mission West librarian Rhonda Mundy.
“I got hold of this super-helpful librarian. She went above and beyond in helping me find a name,” Kirby said.
Kirby told Mundy he had found the ring that included the graduation year, the first name Mark and the initials MEP on the inside.
Mundy searched through old yearbooks and determined that Mark Phillips was the man Kirby was looking for. She even sent him a copy of Phillips’ senior picture from the yearbook.
Mundy says she gets unusual requests for help on a regular basis, from adoptive parents looking for birth parents to alumni looking for old classmates. But this was the first time she had helped bring reunite a class ring with its owner.
“With online searching and social media, searching is a game, kind of. ‘Where do I start? What lead do I follow?’ It’s interesting to see where you end up,” Mundy said.
Once Kirby had a name, he still had to find the person. He convinced television stations in Raleigh and Kansas to do reports about the missing ring.
One of Phillips classmates, Steve Parker, saw the news report and recognized that it belonged to his childhood friend and neighbor Phillips.
Parker had lost track of Phillips over the years, but he remembered seeing an obituary for Phillips’ father. He found that and contacted Phillips’ brother who lives in California.
Mark Phillips said he got an unusual voicemail from his brother a few days later, telling him about the call and that Parker was looking for him to tell him about the new-found ring.
Parker told him to visit Kirby’s website to see the ring.
“When she pulled it up on the website, I looked at it and said ‘That’s my ring,’” Phillips said.
Though he’s been without the ring for nearly three decades, Phillips said he wanted to travel to Garner to retrieve the ring and meet the man who found it.
“He went to an awful lot of trouble to find me, when he could have just sold the ring for whatever it would bring,” Phillips said.
Phillips tried the ring on last Saturday. It didn’t fit, In fact, it didn’t come close even though Phillips is in fit shape.
“I’ll have it resized and wear it again,” Phillips said.
Kirby say’s he’s just glad to have reunited the man with his ring. “I give God all the credit.”