WORTHINGTON, Minn. — Jeff Powers looked out over Lake Okabena in southwest Minnesota on Saturday afternoon as his younger brother, Brian, nervously paced the grassy area behind him.
Moments later, Worthington resident Matt Gaudian showed up and Brian Powers introduced the two. They didn’t know each other, but Gaudian had something that belonged to Jeff Powers — something that had been lost for 30 years. Lost long enough for Jeff to have forgotten about it.
When Gaudian pulled Jeff’s Worthington High School class ring out of a pocket and presented it to its rightful owner, Jeff was shocked.
“What the (heck)?” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know where it went to. You found that out here? Well, thank you. That’s crazy!”
Jeff, who now resides in Sibley, Iowa, said he had no clue how the ring ended up in Lake Okabena, but recalled how he and his high school friends would swim along the shores of the lake.
The ring was one of two Gaudian discovered in a span of little more than a week. The other class ring is 14 karat gold, with WHS inscribed and the numbers 99. Other than the brand name of the class ring and the notation of gold content, there are no other identifiable features.
“I’ve had people look at it and they’re pretty sure it’s 1899,” Gaudian said of the ring he found on May 28.
“It’s WHS, so it could be Windom,” he speculated. “I don’t know for sure that it’s Worthington High School.”
Gaudian has already looked through the class roll from Worthington High School’s class of 1899, learning that eight students graduated that year.
While it was originally thought the ring belonged to a female student — there were two females in the WHS 1899 class — Gaudian has since looked at photos from that era and discovered the men often wore their class ring on their pinky finger.
That ring Gaudian found from 30 years ago has a rather amazing story on how it was found, too, besides the number of years.
It was Sunday afternoon, June 5, when Gaudian was walking through waist-deep water off the shoreline at Chautauqua Park when his metal detector signaled something at the lake bottom. He took his long-handled scoop and scooped up the material in the area where the signal was strongest.
As he pulled the scoop from the water, the class ring was sitting right on top of the sand.
“I got it (the ring) in the scoop and I was getting it in my hands,” he said. “I could read Jeff (on the ring) and then a wave hit me and I dropped it.”
Gaudian spent the next 45 minutes trying to find the class ring with its large red-colored gemstone without success.
Needing a break, he counted the back boards on the nearby Chautauqua Park Bandshell to establish a reference point and went home. Knowing the class ring was at the bottom of the lake, though, bothered him, and he told his wife he was going back out to “find that ring.”
It took Gaudian another 20 minutes before the ring was finally found in about three to four feet of water, approximately 20 feet from shore.
Finding the rightful owner took just a little bit of research. The ring was inscribed with Jeff’s name on the face, along with WHS, the year 1986 and a symbol for bowling on one side. The interior of the ring had the engraving, “Jeffrey Powers.”
“I knew some of the people who graduated around 1986,” Gaudian said, adding that one of them was friends with Brian Powers on Facebook.
A message was sent through the social media site to Brian, asking if he knew a Jeffrey Powers, and that’s when the plans were made to have Jeff come to Worthington for the surprise.
Gaudian finds a lot of things lurking below Lake Okabena’s surface — fishing lures, lead weights, shotgun shells, coins — and every now and then, a real treasure.
His collection of finds from the bottom of Lake Okabena include a pommel — the handle of a 1850 staff sergeant sword from the Civil War — along with a 1928 buffalo nickel, a mercury dime from the 1940s and a counterfeit 1878 silver dollar. It’s counterfeit because it doesn’t contain any silver, he explained.
A teacher in the Worthington School District, Gaudian spends his summer with his metal detector at the lake, focusing primarily on the waters out from the Chautauqua Park bandshell.
“Lots of people swam there,” he said.
While it is always exciting to hear the beep of the metal detector, and then scoop up something from the lake bottom, Gaudian said it is items like coins and class rings that are the most fun.
“I like to research it — find out where it’s from,” he said. “It’s a hobby. I’ve been doing it for about four years, mainly in Lake Okabena.”