Thursday, December 8, 2016

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Voyage from the Bottom of the Sea

A lost class ring eventually found its home after a 12-year journey.
By Tobin Vaughn

For Brian Chetto and his wife, Dawn, it all started at a company Christmas party in 2001.

That’s where the Virginia Beach couple won a two-night stay at La Jolla Cove.

The next summer, they traveled across the country to enjoy their California vacation. What they found in the waters of the cove would travel with them for the next 12 years.

Brian and Dawn Chetto searched for 12 years to find the owner of an SDSU class ring that Brian found at the bottom of La Jolla Cove.
“We were snorkeling when I spotted a shiny object in three or four-feet-deep water,” Chetto recalled in a recent email. “I picked it up.”

It was a ring. More specifically, a San Diego State University class ring with the year 1984 on one side and Anthropology on the other. Engraved on the inside was the name "Dr. J. Underwood."

“I mistakenly thought, 'A school name, year, and engraving; this should be easy to return,'" Chetto said. “We looked in the phone book for Underwood, unsuccessfully, so it came back to Virginia with us.”

An unsuccessful search

Dawn contacted the university to no avail. Chetto searched on line trying to locate Underwood, but was equally unsuccessful. The ring was placed in a drawer and forgotten.

As airline industry employees, the couple moved to Denver, Las Vegas and many places in between. Wherever they moved in the past 12 years, the ring went with them.

“Every few years I would find it and start trying to track down the owner, but we would run into a brick wall every time.” Chetto recalled. “I was always amazed that in the digital age we could just not find this person.

“I honestly did give up looking several times over the years. After all this time I didn't think we would ever find him.”

J is for Jackson

Until May 22, when he reached out to SDSU’s anthropology department and was given the name Jackson for the initial J engraved on the ring. Jackson Underwood (’79, ’84), a noted anthropologist, earned two degrees at SDSU.

Jackson Underwood ('79, '84) lost his class ring while swimming in La Jolla Cove.

Google led Chetto to a Website and email address. He wrote to Underwood about the ring and was thrilled to receive reply from the retired anthropologist now living in Guatemala.

“He estimated that he lost the ring in the late 90s or early 2000s,” Chetto said. “It is in remarkably good condition for being in the ocean for a few years before I found it.”

In an email, Underwood said he used to swim regularly in La Jolla Cove and would leave the ring, which fit loosely on his finger, in his car when he swam. He still remembers the day he lost it.

“On this fateful day I forgot to take off the ring,” Underwood wrote. “I remembered in the water and took off the ring and tucked it into my Speedos for safekeeping. Unfortunately, these were very old Speedos. 

“As I recall, it was rather cool for regular cove swimmers to wear the most worn-out Speedos so that we would not be mistaken for touristas (horrors). Later in the swim, I rolled over on my back to clear my goggles and do a little backstroke. The ring rolled around to the baggy worn-out butt of the Speedos. 

“Amazingly, the weight of the ring ripped through the thin fabric and the ring descended into the depths. It was a rather odd incident, and I used to tell (the story) frequently for a couple of months.”

Returning the ring

Chetto appreciated learning how the ring was lost. More so, he was happy to at long last return it to its owner.

Brian Chetto sent the ring he found to Jackson Underwood, who now lives in Guatemala.

“This ring has been quite the mystery for Dawn and me,” he said. “We are so happy to finally solve this mystery and return the ring. 

“I guess our motivation was that we had most of the relevant information to return it, so it seemed liked a nice thing to try to do. And, it's pretty cool to be able to return something that was thought to be lost forever.”

Chetto packaged the ring on May 29 and sent it off to the address of a Florida mail forwarding service. From there, after traveling from the bottom of La Jolla Cove all over the country with the Chettos, the ring will be sent to Underwood in Guatemala.

“Dawn and I were joking,” Chetto said, “that after all this, it will probably get lost in the mail.”