Heather Behnke was preparing an Easter egg hunt when she lost something that wouldn’t be found by children with straw baskets: her wedding ring.
Some years ago - her husband Ron says three and Heather thinks it was two - Heather was clearing her yard to prepare for an Easter egg hunt the next day. She tossed dead leaves from flower beds into the wooded area behind her house and rushed to finish other preparations.
As she was making Easter dinner, she realized the ring was missing but she did not have time to search for it and figured it would turn up.
But then, “a week went by, still didn’t find it,” Heather said. “Another week, didn’t find it.”
She searched the backyard, but found nothing. Her husband Ron checked the traps under the sink. Eventually, they resigned.
“We called it a loss,” Heather said.
The Behnkes turned out to be wrong, though, thanks to Dan Roekle, a UW Foundation and Alumni Association employee who spends his free time hunting lost rings with his kids.
In February, Heather and Ron read a local newspaper article about the Roekle family unearthing a wedding band that had been buried in a snowstorm. Their minds turned to their own long-lost ring and they mused about whether it could ever be found.
“Ron was kind of laughing like ‘Oh my gosh, wouldn’t that be funny,’” Heather said.
Ron called Roekle, and he agreed to come as soon as spring set in. In April, he arrived with his son Carter, soon to be 12, and daughter Kylie, now 9.
The trio was first intrigued by the idea of this modern-day “treasure hunting” after a family vacation in Florida, when Dan Roekle and Carter stopped to talk with a man combing the beach with a metal detector.
“We thought that was cool so we went back to Wisconsin and bought another metal detector,” Carter said.
They messed around with the metal detector back home in Middleton, and Dan soon found out about Ringfinders, a network of around 300 people who use metal detectors to find lost jewelry and valuables.
Their first ring finding mission was in answer to a Craiglist ad. A man had lost his ring after competing in Ironman race, when it slipped off as he changed into shorts behind some bushes. Dan said someone likely stepped on it and imbedded it into the dirt. Dan and Carter combed the area with a metal detector and found the ring an inch underground.
After that first find, they were hooked, Dan said.
The monetary worth of the rings Dan finds differs, but he said it is more about the strong emotional value they hold.
“It’s awesome to be able to help people and return something that was, in their minds, lost forever,” Dan said. “It’s so much more than just a piece of jewelry or gold; it’s the memories that go along with it.”
To Heather, her ring was special because when Ron and she were married 20 or so years ago, buying a wedding ring was the ultimate sacrifice.
“We were broke when we got married,” Heather said. “I was 23 and he was 25.”
When Dan, Carter and Kylie showed up at their home in Sun Prairie, she pointed out the flower beds and wooded area where she believed she had lost it, still doubtful they would find anything. The team went to work searching with a metal detector (though Kylie was a little more absorbed with the family’s golden retriever than ring-finding, Dan said).
Heather retreated to the kitchen and 10 or so minutes later, Dan knocked the screen door and asked more questions about the ring. She repeated the description.
“Well,” Dan said, holding up a ring. “Is it this?”
He and his kids had discovered the ring buried in a flower bed, imbedded next to a hosta plant.
Heather started laughing – Dan recalls her screaming and jumping up and down - and when Rob heard the excitement, he came out, equally surprised.
“It was crazy,” Heather said.
Heather’s ring was the 15th successful return so far. It was also an unusually fast find, Dan said. It was the first signal they had gotten (ring finds usually include multiple false alarms from metal debris). Their particular “nemesis,” Dan said, is buried soda can tops, because their shape is trickily similar to rings.
In the past, the team has spent up to four or five hours on a hunt.
“We’re pretty stubborn,” Dan said.
Perfecting metal detection techniques and searching strangers’ yards for tiny pieces of metal may not sound like an ideal Saturday, but both Carter and Kylie said they enjoy ring finding. To Dan, it’s a way to spend time with his children.
“The cool part for me is just doing something outside with the kids,” Dan said. “Kids these days spend so much time inside playing video games. I love the fact that they want to go metal detecting and go outside.”
To cover gas and expenses, Dan typically charges $25 to search a site, or more than that if the site is far outside of the Madison area. If the team is successful, he asks for a discretionary reward of whatever the owner feels the services were worth. The profits go to improving their ring finding techniques and Dan donates 25 percent of funds to Carter and Kylie’s school, Westside Christian.
In addition to the ring finding being an adventure, Dan said he tries to use the ring finding to teach his kids about helping others.
Kylie said she enjoys the reactions after a successful find.
“It’s very exciting when we find a ring,” Kylie said. “It’s happy for them and it’s happy also for us.”
To learn more about the ringfinding service, visit www.lostandfoundring.com.