Nick Scronce was the first in his family to graduate from college, so his N.C. State University class ring was more than just a bauble.
Precious as it was, a series of still-unexplained circumstances led to Scronce, 71, losing that ring the year he graduated -- in 1955.
Now, nearly 50 years later, the same ring has resurfaced, delivered in an envelope with no return address. It's not back on Scronce's finger -- it's too tight after all these years -- but it is tucked safely in a drawer in his Goldsboro home, conjuring up memories of his youth and closing the door on half a century of mystery.
It all started with a girl.
In 1955, Scronce, then a second lieutenant in the Air Force, trained for a month in San Antonio. He took a date, whose name he no longer recalls, to the Officers Club, and he slipped off his ring when she requested a closer look. Conversation bubbled, and Scronce forgot all about the ring with the red stone and the Delta Kappa Phi inscription -- that was his textile fraternity -- until his date came back from the bathroom.
She said she left the ring beside the sink. When she went back to look for it, it was gone. "I thought right away, and I always have thought, she just took it," Scronce said.
He was angry and disappointed, but he didn't have time to dwell on the disappearance.
In the years that scrolled by, Scronce navigated more than 100 missions in Vietnam.
He got married.
He even ordered a new class ring.
Then one day a few weeks ago, he got a phone call from Nick McEntire, assistant director of alumni affairs at UNC-Charlotte.
McEntire had received a package addressed only "University of No. Carolina, Alumni Association, North Carolina." No city was indicated, but somehow it ended up in Charlotte. There was a blurry cancellation stamp from Englewood, Calif., and a ring inside inscribed "Nicholas E. Scr..."
No explanation was included.
McEntire couldn't make out the last name, so he called the alumni office at NCSU.
Randy Ham, who works there, was hardly fazed. "We probably reunite people with their lost class rings as often as once or twice a month," he said.
Not long ago, a woman sent an e-mail message from Indianapolis, where her husband was cleaning out a construction bin. He found a suspicious box and inside discovered an ACC tournament championship ring from 1983 belonging to Sidney Lowe, who played for the Indianapolis Pacers after leaving NCSU. "He didn't even realize the ring was missing," Ham said.
Clearly, the business of reuniting rings with fingers is nothing new for Ham. But in the case of the Class of 1955 ring, even the unflappable Ham was shocked at how long it had been missing.
Ham ran a database search on "Nicholas E.," Class of 1955. Two alumni matched. One last name had too many characters to be a potential fit. The other was Scronce, who initially insisted during the conference call with Ham and McEntire that the unclaimed ring couldn't possibly be his.
"I said it couldn't be anyone else's," McEntire said.
Slowly, Scronce concurred.
"It's something else, I tell you," said Scronce, who retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1985.
As for the anonymous date -- still suspect in Scronce's mind -- the ring snafu emphatically ended their budding courtship.
"I never went on another date with her," he said.
Staff writer Bonnie Rochman can be reached at 829-4871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.