When a class ring missing since 1965 showed up on her desk, Prospect High School dean of students Patricia Tedaldi Monti accepted the challenge with a dogged determination.
"Pit bull," fellow dean Mark Taylor says with a nod in Monti's direction.
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"I will find the owner," Monti assured him.
The dean still was flush with her recent success of solving the mystery of a pigeon that wandered into the chorus room, requiring Monti to find the AU2010 printed on a band around the bird's leg, which led her to a pigeon-racing association in Georgia, which put her in touch with the bird's relieved and thankful owner in Mount Prospect.
"People know that if they come to this office, we'll help," Monti says, "even if it's a lost pigeon or a lost ring from 1965."
The ring was unearthed in the front yard of a home eight blocks from the school.
"I was just doing my spring gardening and saw the ring in the dirt," says Tippe Wiberg, who was edging around her flower bed. Wiberg cleaned it up, realized it was a Prospect High School class ring and discovered the initials PRT engraved on the inside. The initials meant nothing to the Wibergs, who moved in 13 years ago. But an older neighbor said a family named Thompson once lived in the house.
"It's special to somebody," Wiberg said, leaving it with the school.
While Flaherty Jewelers in Arlington Heights performed a minor repair, cleaned and polished the ring for no charge, Monti and Taylor dug out a 1965 yearbook and determined the ring belonged to Paul R. Thompson. They hit the Internet, turning up Paul Thompsons from coast to coast.
"Well, he was in the biology club," Monti remembers thinking, "maybe he became a doctor."
But the Paul Thompson she sought wasn't the UCLA neurology professor, the cosmetic dentist in New Hampshire, the cardiothoracic surgeon in Florida or the family physician in Snyder, Texas. Turns out Paul Thompson is a pretty common name.
The secretary for one Paul Thompson on the East Coast came right out and asked Monti, "Are you a kook?"
"Who says that?" Monti asks indignantly, noting that even a dead end with an insult couldn't shake her off the trail.
"I talked to a couple of other Paul Thompsons before I found him," Monti says. A decade-old alumni list finally narrowed her search to Michigan, where she sniffed out her man in Northfield.
"His wife answered the phone," Monti says. "She was a little skeptical at first."
This Paul Thompson, a 63-year-old business consultant, was on a work trip in Monterrey, Mexico, when he pulled up his wife's email.
"I was surprised," says Thompson, who vividly remembers his parents buying him that ring his junior year. A class ring was a big deal to kids in the 1960s. Thompson says he wore it every day, except for a "short time" when he gave it to a girlfriend who soon returned it by "mutual agreement." Thompson has fond memories of Prospect.
"I was in speech, music, drama, computers, engineering, just about everything except sports," says Thompson, a tenor who appeared in stage productions of "Brigadoon," "Death Takes a Holiday" and "So This Is Paris." Shunning the clubs for ham radio, model railroading or other 20th century pursuits, Thompson was a member of the fledgling Computer Club even if the only computers were huge, futuristic devices that mostly belonged to institutions such as MIT, IBM or NASA.
"We've always been very progressive. We have a Cold-Fusion Club now," Taylor deadpans.
The day he lost his ring, Thompson was 17 and his family wanted to spruce up the yard because they were thinking of selling the house.
"We were planting bushes and I made the mistake of wearing my ring," Thompson remembers. Washing up in the basement laundry room sink, he noticed his bare finger. He didn't hear the ring go down the drain, so he and his younger brother, Gary, returned to the yard.
"We didn't pull up the bushes, but we dug around in the dirt and obviously weren't successful," Thompson says. He doesn't remember how much his parents paid for the ring, but he does remember that it was significant enough that they told him, "We're not going to replace it."
Grateful for the return of his long-lost ring, Thompson sent nice gift baskets to Monti, Taylor and the Prospect staff as well as the Wiberg family.
"I can't tell you how excited I was to find him," Monti says. "It just makes things fun."
Constable: Ring was found in front yard of man's childhood home