Lost class ring returns to owner - in Japan - after 32 years
By Mark Wineka
SPENCER - As usual, young Adam Broyles was dirt fishing.
It was a hot July afternoon in 2011, and Broyles had left the house to walk his dog, Oreo. Adam's instincts for treasure hunting - he says it's fair to call it an obsession - steered them to an old dump in the woods not far from the house.
The teenager had no idea the walk would lead him to a man in Japan, more than 6,800 miles away.
Wandering through the dump, Adam's eye caught the glint of an old medicine bottle. He dug and pulled before he could free the bottle, but something metallic lying in the hole left by his digging also grabbed his attention.
Broyles' first thought it was what treasure hunters consider a "junk ring," or child's ring.
"As I saw the dates on it, that quickly changed," Adam recalls. "It was definitely a class ring - and an old one at that."
Adam and his father, Duane Broyles, routinely hunt for treasure with metal detectors. They say it's part of their DNA. Over the years, Adam alone has found artifacts such as a Civil War bullet, the button to a Union soldier's coat, silver quarters in a jar, an 1800s coin, silver half dollars, "tons of bottles" and other rings and jewelry.
He even has YouTube videos of his searches under the name "ncsilverspider."
But this find - the class ring - was without a metal detector.
"He's got a good eye," Duane Broyles says of Adam, now 18.
After cleaning it up later at the house, Adam realized he had a gold 1979 class ring from North Rowan High School. It held an amethyst stone, and the initials "R.E.L." were engraved inside the band.
Adam belongs to a treasure hunters' forum on the internet where other metal-detecting, dirt-fishing people post their finds and seek advice.
He put up a picture of the class ring and asked his online friends how he might return it to its owner.
Adam eventually made contacts with 1979 graduates of North Rowan, and they figured out the initials must stand for classmate Ron Lightfoot.
With his father's help, Adam tracked down Ron Lightfoot's name in an obituary for Ron's father.
"I called and spoke to his sister-in-law who confirmed they at one time lived in Salisbury," Duane Broyles says, "and, yes, she was related to Ron, who went to North Rowan and graduated in 1979."
After high school, Lightfoot joined the Air Force. The sister-in-law said he then went to work for the U.S. government and was living in Japan.
She provided the Broyles family with Lightfoot's email address.
Duane Broyles says his son sent a short, to-the-point email asking the Ron Lightfoot in Japan whether the ring with the "R.E.L." initials could be his.
"Could it be?" Lightfoot emailed back. "My long, lost ring?"
Adam next sent Lightfoot a photograph of the ring, prompting this email reply:
"Oh, my blessed Lord!!!" Lightfoot said. "It's mine!!! How in the world did you get it to look so good. I'm shaking so much I can hardly type."
Missing 32 years
Duane Broyles says they learned that Lightfoot had lost the ring in July 1979 when he was helping a friend clear some brush next to a house. It was near the same woods where Adam had found it.
"My parents just bought the ring in February of that year," Lightfoot said in an email. "The day I told them I lost the ring was one of the longest days of my life."
It had been missing 32 years, from 1979 to 2011.
Adam readied the ring for shipping, and within five days, Lightfoot had it back in his possession in Japan.
Before the ring was shipped off, Duane Broyles took a photograph of Adam at Salisbury's Bell Tower. Adam was facing to his left, holding out the 1979 class ring.
After Lightfoot received the ring, he posed in front of the 1,091-foot-high Tokyo Tower. He was facing right, as if accepting the ring from Adam.
It all has a "Lord of the Rings" (Two Towers) feel to it, Duane Broyles says.
The story keeps going.
Lightfoot sent Adam a framed Samurai sword as a thank-you.
Back in the States
He also emailed Adam a few weeks ago and said he and his wife, Maria, had moved back to the United States and were living in Maryland.
The Lightfoots were planning a trip to Spencer and wondered if they could meet and have dinner with the Broyles family.
The families met at Hendrix Barbecue in Spencer before heading over to the Broyles' house, where Lightfoot showed off his North Rowan High yearbooks. He played four years for the Cavaliers' football team.
Adam and Lightfoot also walked to the place where Adam found the class ring. Before the Lightfoots left that evening, Adam presented Ron with the bottle that had been lying over the ring.
"That was a really cool visit when he came down," Adam says.
The Lightfoots later went to the Rowan County Fair and later in the week attended the North Rowan High homecoming game.
Adam Broyles lists his priorities in life as witnessing for God, railroading and treasure hunting. After high school, he's hoping to attend a Bible college - Piedmont international University in Winston-Salem.
Adam performs in the praise band at North Hills Christian School. He also writes songs and sings. The Broyles family purchased Adam's own class ring this past spring.
Adam has made sure the ring includes his initials.
You never know when someone dirt fishin' may need them.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or email@example.com.