JOLIET – When metal detector enthusiast Tom Kallai of Joliet found the Miami University class ring, he didn’t hesitate.
Kallai said he searched the ring for a name and contacted the owner, Tom Auble of Plainfield.
Auble said his wife Corinne took the call and then phoned him at work. Auble listened, stunned. He lost that ring on Mother’s Day in 2007 while attending his daughter’s soccer game. To Auble, this was no common ring.
As a boy, Auble loved wearing his father’s class ring, but had no interest in getting his own until his father surprised him with one for Auble’s birthday – May 16 – in 1995. Auble’s father died two years later.
So when Auble lost it in 2007 around the same date, he also lost a treasured connection to his father. Auble – who searched many hours for that ring – still can’t believe it’s back after all these years.
“I get chills thinking about it,” Auble said.
Kallai, one of the 136 members of the Will County Historical Research and Recovery Association, was happy to help. He tries to go metal detecting every day, but doesn’t often turn up significant items.
“It takes a lot of bottle caps to get something exciting,” Kallai said.
In addition to the fun of metal detecting, Club President Chester Kiernicki, of Darien, said members also work with historians to preserve the past.
They have retrieved 2-cent pennies (the price for a can of milk) at a former Tinley Park milk house, Kiernicki said, as well as two dozen dimes from the mid-1800s and pieces of women’s jewelry from a former 19th-century Bible camp in Wisconsin that eventually was bulldozed for an apartment complex.
Kiernicki said he recently found a 1905 barber dime at a Chicago park. The inherent value of such items, Kiernicki said, is not monetary value, but legacy.
“They’re part of our nation and the fabric of our lives,” Kiernicki said.
Jan Nahorski of Joliet said he founded the club in 1980 as the Will County Metal Detector Club simply because metal-detecting always fascinated him and the area had no organization for enthusiasts.
About a dozen people came to the first meeting at the downtown branch of the Joliet Public Library, where they created rules, regulations and objectives, and initiated monthly club hunts for members and “Find of the Month” contests, Nahorski said.
In 1989, Nahorski had to step back from metal detecting, but when he returned to the club years later, he happily found the name had changed and both objectives and membership had grown.
Even the equipment was improved, as it provided the operator with information about the detected object, which helps prevent digging up scrap, Nahorski said. That perk is good and bad.
“If you’re in a park and don’t dig up every pull tab, you might miss something,” Nahorski said. “But if you’re in an open field or a forest and you get a ‘gold’ signal, I’m going to dig. I might get a gold earring or ring.”
One memorable find was a 1942 mercury dime perfectly lodged inside an engagement ring, Nahorski said. Items more commonly found include pocket knives, harmonica reeds, dog tags, metal seals, coins and store tokens, such as the 10-cent token Nahorski found from a general store in El Paso.
“If you go to a ball field and find a quarter, a dime and four pennies, you’ve got nothing more than 39 cents,” Nahorski said. “But if you find a 1937 wheat penny, you go, ‘Hmm, why is this wheat penny here?’ The Internet has been a real godsend to us.”
Nahorski stressed the club’s high code of ethics. If an object of any perceived value is found, members thoroughly research it, with the goal of connecting it to the owner. Junk metal – pop tabs and “metal slaw” (pop cans shredded by lawnmowers) – is collected and thrown away, so passers-by don’t get hurt, Nahorski said.
The same diligence is part of the actual detecting process. People commonly assume metal detectors dig large holes and scar the land when the opposite is true – especially among trained metal detectors, Nahorski said, who leave little to no trace of their activities.
“When we return the dirt to the hole, we flap the grass over it,” Nahorski said, “and it regenerates.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Will County Historical Research and Recovery Association
WHEN: 7 p.m. fourth Tuesday of the month
WHERE: American Legion Hall Post 1080, 2625 Ingalls Ave., Joliet