Ask James Vincent Miller about his days as a business student at the University of San Diego College for Men and the 1965 graduate reflects fondly on his classes with memorable professors and classmates.
On Tuesday, Miller added another reason to fondly think about his alma mater — a reunion 44 years later with his blue and gold University of San Diego class ring.
“I was stunned,” said Miller, about the email he received this month from USD Alumni Relations Volunteer Coordinator Erin Gunning asking if he had lost his class ring.
“I lost my ring either while I was training with the National Guard at Fort Knox, Kentucky or when I went with some of the officers to the Indianapolis 500 in 1968,” he recalled. “But once the ring was gone, I just accepted that fact.”
Miller, who turns 68 in February, received an early birthday present courtesy of the goodwill of a stranger, Rick Wallerich, from Moulton, Iowa.
Wallerich, 37, said his father, who passed away in 1999, was an avid collector of all kinds of merchandise and a regular auction attendee.
“My best guess is that my father bought it at an auction in the late 1980s in Boonville, Missouri,” Wallerich said in a phone interview. “My mother has had the ring for years. We feel bad that we’ve had it for so long. It’s just something that was forgotten about for so many years.”
Wallerich said he found the ring after moving some boxes at home.
“This was the first time I’d taken a really close look at it,” he said. “When I saw the initials ‘J.V.M.’ I called the university to tell them I had the ring. It feels really good to know that the gentleman will get his ring back.”
Gunning did an alumni database search with the initials and graduation year, which was inscribed on the ring along with 1949, USD’s founding year. Miller’s name came up and she immediately sent him the email.
Miller, a retired financial planner and real estate agent who now splits his time between visiting family in Edmond, Okla. and Thailand, verified it was his ring and would love to have it back. Wallerich mailed the ring to Gunning (pictured, with Miller) so she could present it to Miller, who was already scheduled to be in San Diego to visit his sister in Oceanside this week.
“The alumni staff is always excited whenever we can reconnect with alumni, especially in a unique situation like this,” said Charles Bass, director of USD Alumni Relations.
Miller was born in Davenport, Iowa but moved with his family to Chula Vista at age 7, went to Chula Vista High School and lived at home while attending college and working at the Chula Vista Boys Club. He said it was a nice coincidence that the ring was found by someone from Iowa.
“It’s a small world that we live in sometimes,” he said. “When Erin said the fellow lived in Iowa, I wondered if there was any kind of connection.”
They weren’t before, but Wallerich and Miller are connected now. Wallerich’s mother, Diana, included a short handwritten note inside the box with Miller’s ring.
“I don’t have the words to explain how much joy it gives me to find the owner of this ring … I hope you enjoy getting it back as much as I enjoy returning it to you,” she said. Rick Wallerich hoped to speak with Miller by phone and a photo of Miller with his reclaimed prized possession has been sent.
“It’s in perfect condition,” Miller said of the ring he slipped onto his right pinkie finger for the first time in 44 years on Tuesday. “I’m very appreciative of the kind thoughts of this gentleman to take the time to find out who the ring belonged to. I plan to wear it for awhile. I certainly won’t lose it again.”
— Ryan T. Blystone