CARBONDALE — Nathan Duffield has found a lot of junk on the river: sunglasses that usually are too scratched to be used, fishing lures, pocket knives — mostly things that don’t float when someone’s boat flips.

But about 20 years ago, he also found a ring.

The stone was rectangular cut and blue, set in white gold with the graduation year, 1977, on prominent display around the blue centerpiece, along with the initial G to the left and R to the right.

Duffield, of Murphysboro, said when he was around 9 years old, he and his family packed up for their yearly trip to camp and float along a river in Missouri — this year it was the Current River near Van Buren.

As he explored the bank, the glint of the ring caught his eye, and he picked it up. Aside from a flat spot on the bottom, he said it was in great shape. But he knew someone would want it back.

The ring had made its way to the bottom of the river a decade before when Gena Dancer was babysitting her younger brother, Jacob, along the river — they lived not far from there, around Van Buren, Missouri.

As she put on sunscreen, Jacob, making a rash decision the way toddlers do, picked the ring up off Dancer’s towel, and tossed it like any other stone into the river.

To say Dancer was upset would be an understatement. She had worked to pay for the ring herself.

In the three decades since she lost the ring, she has never forgotten it.

In fact, it came up again in late August as Dancer and her daughter, Ashley Ramsey, were making their regular 600-mile trip to the Mayo Clinic.

Dancer is ill; Ramsey said her mother has just six months to live.

“She said, ‘Boy, I wish I had my class ring to leave you,’” Dancer recalled her mom saying in the car.

Two weeks later, Ramsey was working her bartending job in Branson when she got a text from her cousin asking if her mom ever lost a class ring — someone on Facebook had posted about finding a ring decades ago, and was looking for its owner.

“I was able to describe it to him completely,” she said. Sure enough, it was a match.

It was only at the end of this past summer that Duffield, 39, decided to join Facebook. He found pages dedicated to his favorite places and things, namely one about foraging for edibles in Missouri and vacationing along the Jacks Fork and Current rivers.

He said he noticed someone on one of those pages post about finding a lost wedding ring, and it made him recall that class ring he’d kept all these years that was still in his mother’s jewelry box.

He made a post with the description, and within two hours was connected with Ramsey.

After hearing Ramsey describe the ring in detail, he had one thing to say: “I knew it was her.”

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Ramsey said she text messaged her mom right away.

“I think we have found your class ring,” she told her.

“No possible way, it’s been 30 years,” Dancer replied — but Ramsey said she knew it was the one.

This was in early September. After some scheduling, the two parties arranged to meet — with her illness, Dancer doesn’t travel, so Duffield decided to take it all the way to Branson.

“After having it this long, I’d just as soon give it to her just to see her reaction,” Duffield said.

Earlier this month, Duffield made the trip to Missouri to make the connection three decades in the making.

“He offered to do it for nothing,” Ramsey said of Duffield. However, she said she couldn’t let that happen, so she paid for his lunch, hotel room and got him tickets to a show in Branson for the trouble of bringing it all the way to them.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Duffield arrived with the ring.

“Nathan was crying; mom was crying; I was crying,” Ramsey remembered.

The ring fit perfectly. Ramsey said her mom hasn't taken it off since getting it back.

After visiting with the family for a bit, Duffield said he had another strange realization.

“I can almost guarantee that we met before,” he said.

Duffield found out that Dancer owned a restaurant in Van Buren, likely the only one in town when he and his family would vacation there. Duffield said there’s a good possibility Dancer served him a cheeseburger.

That Duffield kept the ring despite being able to do any number of things with it — including pawn it — these last 20 years it is remarkable to Ramsey and her mother.

“We are in awe of him,” she said.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

“The fact that it was back in her possession before she passed away was just phenomenal,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey and her mother are sure the meeting was “a God thing,” but Duffield isn’t too sure. He said he’s not a religious man, but noted that “It makes you wonder.”

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