Royal Oak grad reunited with 1951 high school ring

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published February 26, 2018

 The Royal Oak High School class ring belonging to Ronald Francis Birou sits on a mound of earth after being uncovered by Royal Oak resident  John Newman late last  year. Last week, the community came  together to locate  the ring’s owner.

The Royal Oak High School class ring belonging to Ronald Francis Birou sits on a mound of earth after being uncovered by Royal Oak resident John Newman late last year. Last week, the community came together to locate the ring’s owner.

Photo provided by John Newman

 The front of the class ring features a black stone background, a golden acorn and Royal Oak banner, and the year 1951.

The front of the class ring features a black stone background, a golden acorn and Royal Oak banner, and the year 1951.

Photo provided by the Royal Oak Historical Society

ROYAL OAK — With a little help from technology, a 1951 class ring with the initials “R.F.B.” was on track to find its way back to its original owner this week.

Royal Oak resident John Newman unearthed the gold ring while using his metal detector at a Birmingham school late last year, and he made it his mission to find the owner.

“I tried to do some research on my own, looking up the initials inscribed on it, but I didn’t come up with too many names,” Newman said. 

He said he took up metal detecting as a hobby approximately three years ago and that he knew he had a rare find.

On Saturday, Feb. 17, he enlisted the help of the Royal Oak Historical Society.

Volunteers helped him locate two 1951 Royal Oak High School yearbooks at the society’s museum, and that information winnowed the list of possible owners down to five names. A social media post seeking the matching person yielded a dizzying response, according to curator Muriel Versagi.

“(The post) hadn’t been up 30 minutes, and I spent the rest of the afternoon answering emails. It was just really incredible,” Versagi said. “This town is just amazing.”

Newman said he located a Facebook user with the same last name as one of the individuals identified through the yearbook, and he reached out, only to discover that she was the daughter of the ring’s owner.

On the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 21, he said, he walked into the museum to discover Versagi on the phone with the daughter, Laura Birou, and that he also spoke with her father and the ring’s owner, Ronald Francis Birou. Versagi said they live in Bonita Springs, Florida.

“It was happy and sad at the same time,” Newman said. “Happy because we could get the ring back to the owner, but sad because he told me the backstory of what transpired since then.”

According to Newman, Ronald Birou gave the ring to his wife when the two were “just getting serious,” but he never knew that she no longer had it in her possession.

Sadly, his wife died Feb. 8, but Newman said Birou took the series of events as a sign that his wife was looking down on him and that she was at peace.

“He was very grateful, though,” Newman said. “He said, ‘I’m very happy that you had the honesty to return it.’ I just wanted to make sure it got back.”

In a Feb. 21 phone interview with the Royal Oak Review, Versagi said she was boxing up the ring to send to the family in Florida. At press time, she said it would reach them Monday, Feb. 26, according to UPS.

“It was really, really moving,” Versagi said. “John is an incredible young man. … (That we were able to solve the mystery) from Saturday to today is incredible.”