GREENVILLE — Fourteen-year-old Alice Klingerman froze, halting the metal detector that she had been sweeping in slow arcs across a field outside New Hope Church in Hillsborough.
"There's something," she said as the detector hummed.
Her father, Andy Klingerman, dropped to the ground and, with a trowel in his hand, took a large clump of dirt. What he plucked from his scoop appeared to be gold.
"You are not going to believe this Alice," he said. "It's a ring."
What the Klingermans had found was the 1956 high school class ring of Les Sutorius, a 74-year-old Pitt County trumpet player who lost the memento more than half a century ago during his freshman orientation at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"I can't believe it," Sutorius said during an interview at The Daily Reflector while wearing the ring — still a perfect fit. "Five inches deep in the ground for 56 years, and it remains in good condition."
Klingerman, 64, said he has retrieved his fair share of rusted nails, soda can pull-tabs and collectibles — including a krona coin from Iceland — while prospecting. But gold, he said, will never tarnish, much like this story, which involved some investigation, a surprising reunion and a life lesson.
The gold ring, found last month, has a Black Onyx stone in the center, the words Manhasset High School below the crest and the initials LSS inscribed on the inside.
"Manhasset High School?" Andy Klingerman asked his daughter as she examined the ring. "That's from Long Island."
A graduate of Wellington C. Mepham High School — Class of 1967 — Andy Klingerman knew Manhasset. The two schools were within 15 miles of each other on Long Island, N.Y.
Through some Internet research, the Klingermans found a lost-and-found site for class rings on Manhasset High School's Web page and entered a claim.
Close to a month passed with no luck, until two weeks ago when Andy Klingerman called the Manhasset school library. Staff found two graduates in the 1956 yearbook with the initials LS.
Ladislav Soucek had no Web hits tying him to North Carolina.
The other listing was Sutorius, a former resident of Greenville and Winterville who is listed in the phone book as a Cypress Landing homeowner on Chocowinity Bay.
When his search had narrowed the field to one, Klingerman called Sutorius.
"If this is Leslie Sutorius Class of 1956 from Manhasset High School," he said in a message on Sutorius' answering machine. "I may have something that belongs to you."
"I was amazed," Sutorius said of his reaction to the recording.
Sutorius remembers the day he lost his ring.
It was September 1956 during UNC freshman orientation at Camp New Hope outside of Hillsborough.
Sutorius was playing baseball with a group of young men and lost his high school ring while removing his mitt from his right hand.
"I looked everywhere, but I couldn't find it," Sutorius said. "I thought I would never see it again and said, 'Well, there goes high school.'"
Sutorius called Andy Klingerman, who after the two chatted a while, asked if he could return the ring in the mail once he showed it to his metal detecting club in Raleigh.
At first, Sutorius agreed, but then he and his wife offered to come to Chapel Hill — where Andy Klingerman works as a scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — to meet Alice and treat the two to lunch.
The lunch date went so well, the four made plans to meet again.
"It was exciting," Andy Klingerman said. "I felt really good about being able to return the ring.
"It was a great value to teach my daughter — that when you find something, you try to return it to the owners," he said.