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Hope is ringing true, at last

When a stranger finds a ring she lost long ago, a woman regains a treasured gift, and more.

By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published January 26, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Lance Aram Rothstein]
Mark Prue, a 44-year-old financial adviser and weekend treasure hunter, shows off some of his loot at his home Thursday. He says he's found hundreds of rings, including a platinum engagement band with 27 diamonds appraised at $3,500.

Money came hard for Robert Allen, a New York city bridge operator. But he scrimped and saved and bought his daughter Susan a graduation ring.

East Islip High School. Class of 1978.

She wore the silver ring with a ruby stone proudly. Though only 16, she appreciated her father's efforts and generosity. In the past, he had never been able to give her much in the way of gifts, save for a few bucks here and there.

This ring was special.

Susan's parents divorced when she was 12. Her mom remarried. Her dad lived alone in an apartment in Queens. After Susan's graduation, her mom moved the family from New York to Florida. Susan missed home. The ring was her comfort, her tie to her dad.

In August 1978, just months after graduation, Susan floated on an inner tube off the shore of St. Pete Beach.

The ring caught on the tube's air valve and flicked off her finger.

She watched helplessly as it plunked into the water and sank.

Susan knew she'd never see it again. She was inconsolable.

* * *

Mark Prue is a hunter of things lost. He's 43, married, has two kids, lives in Lutz and is a financial advisor in Zephyrhills.

In 2000, his mom kept bugging him about what he wanted for his birthday, six months away.

"I'd like a metal detector," he told her. He wasn't serious. It was just something that came to mind.

And nothing more was said. He forgot about it.

But on Mark's birthday, there, awkwardly wrapped, was a Radio Shack metal detector.

Mark had asked for it - even if it was a joke. So he felt like he should at least try it out.

He went to a park and found three bucks in change.

He didn't know people lost money like that. Maybe there were other things he could find.

He loved history and the idea of finding things lost, taking them home and giving them new lives.

He started going out more often.

He found his first gold ring.

He bought a top-of-the-line detector and found the Suncoast Search and Recovery Club - a group of metal detector hobbyists who not only do this for their own pleasure but are on call to assist people who have lost things. They do it for free.

Mark started going to their monthly meetings and became their treasurer.

He was amazed at the fantastic finds people kept bringing. He asked for their secret.

"You've got to go to the beaches," they said.

Mark bought another top-of-the-line detector, a Fisher CZ 20 that works great both on land and in the water.

He bought a wet suit. He found 30 gold rings. A hundred silver rings. A platinum engagement band with 27 diamonds - appraised at $3,500. He gave it to his wife.

He always tries to find the owner of the items, he said, but most often that's not possible.

* * *

Susan had been living in Pinellas County less than two years when she got the news that her dad died. He fell down a flight of steps in his apartment building and hit his head.

Susan's mother moved the family to Long Island in 1981. Susan earned a bachelor's degree at Stony Brook University, where she still works as a library assistant.

She met Mark Bosco, a man much like her father - another gadget guy with a quiet, dry sense of humor - and married him on her father's birthday, June 15.

Susan still missed her class ring. She bought a new ring, identical to the one she lost, but it wasn't the same.

* * *

In June 2004, Mark Prue searched the water off St. Pete Beach at first light.

He dug out a man's gold wedding band and tucked it into his fanny pack.

He kept searching.

He heard a beep, a strong one. He sunk his metal shovel in the ground. Once, twice, three times. He still couldn't get it.

On the fourth scoop, he found the target.

It looked like a charcoal lump the size of a ping pong ball.

He knocked the crust off and rubbed it.

It was a class ring with a ruby stone.

He could barely make out the name of the school:

East Islip High School

Class of '78.

Prue took the ring home and cleaned it up. He could read the name inside:

Susan G. Allen.

He found the school on the Internet and sent an e-mail, but received no response.

He tucked it into his safe deposit - where he keeps all his treasures.

He kept wondering about this woman - how she lost the ring and if he would ever be able to get it back to her.

At the last meeting before this Christmas, a club member suggested that Mark get in touch with Karen Leonardi, a woman in Pennsylvania who specializes in reuniting people with lost class rings.

Mark sent her an e-mail.

He heard nothing.

He gave her a call.

Nothing.

Then he answered the phone a few days into January.

"Hey," Karen said. "I found the owner."

* * *

Things hadn't been going well for Susan toward the end of 2006. She didn't want to say - just called them personal problems.

She prayed to her father.

"Come to me in a dream. You don't have to say anything. Just give me a sign. Please. I need to know everything will be okay. I need some assurance, right now. Just tell me something, anything. Help."

* * *

Her phone rang on Monday, Jan. 8. Susan was sick, so she let the answering machine get it. The woman on the phone was a librarian at East Islip High School.

"I'm looking for a Susan Allen who graduated from here in 1978 ... If you are, someone found your high school ring."

Susan didn't understand. It couldn't be the ring her father got her. That was swallowed by the sea. She thought it was her replacement ring, that maybe she lost it. She went to check her jewelry box. It was still there.

"There's no way it's the other ring," she thought.

But she felt shaky with adrenaline and hope.

She called the librarian back.

"I'm so glad you're the right person," the librarian said.

"I don't know if I am," Susan said. "I lost my ring in the Gulf of Mexico."

"That's where they found it," the librarian exclaimed.

"Get out," Susan said. "I can't believe it."

* * *

A few minutes later, Susan and Mark Prue were on the phone together.

He described the ring. That's when it all hit her. This really, truly was her ring.

Two days later, she went to East Islip. The librarian handed her a FedEx envelope.

Susan opened it and there it was, her ring, 28 years later. She slipped it on her finger. It still fit.

* * *

The ring is a bit battered, after so many years and miles pushed along the sand by the tides. A ring company called and said it would refurbish it for free, make it just like new again. But Susan said thanks, but no. She likes feeling the slight roughness, reminding her of the life it spent at the bottom of the Gulf.

She only takes off the ring at night.

She believes this is a tangible sign of something intangible - of life after death, of guardian angels, of hope when you need it most.

She rubs the grooves and feels like it's her father saying, "I'm here. Everything is okay."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at 813 909-4609 or esullivan@sptimes.com.

[Last modified January 25, 2007, 23:36:56]


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