Rich Parkins has spent more than four decades metal detecting. In that time he has uncovered coins, Native American artifacts and even some colonial bells.
While some of his finds have brought back a pretty penny, Parkins’s most recent discovery in the rolling fields of Jones Family Farms’ Candy Cane Hill was perhaps the most precious. This time while sweeping, Parkins pulled out a 1988 class ring, which he was able to return to its surprised, but grateful owner.
“It was such a pleasant, unexpected and wonderful surprise,” said Jennifer Fleischer, a Milford resident. “Rich was so considerate to reach out and find out where the ring came "from. I couldn’t be more thankful.”
Parkins presented the class ring to Fleischer on Memorial Day weekend at the farm, where she lost it 30 years ago while hunting for a Christmas tree with friends and family — what has become a tradition for thousands each and every year at the well-known farm.
“It is a fantastic feeling,” said Parkins, a longtime employee at Jones Family Farms & Winery who often sweeps the fields with his metal detector. “It was well worth my effort just to see her face when I gave it back to her. She was so happy.
“It was a good feeling for me to go out of my way and make someone happy. I was also happy to do something good for the farm,” added Parkins.
What made this even more surprising was that Fleischer was just recently reminiscing about her lost ring, since she is now helping her son order his high school ring.
“This certainly made my day,” said Fleischer. “This was a great experience for me and my family.”
Parkins, a lifelong Shelton resident, said when he pulled the ring from the ground, he noticed it was engraved with a name and had a crest. Parkins and his wife, Diane, who spent more than 40 years teaching in the Shelton school system, did some research and learned the crest’s image matched that of Lauralton Hall in Milford.
The pair then contacted the school, connecting with the alumni coordinator, who reached out to Fleischer, who indeed had lost her ring and always suspected it went missing at the farm.
Fleischer had gone off to school in Oklahoma, coincidentally the same state where Parkins had spent some time during his military service during the Vietnam War. When she returned from that first semester away from Connecticut, the family came to the farm to harvest their Christmas tree, as is many families’ tradition. It was there in 1989 that the ring slipped off her finger.
Parkins discovered the ring in a tree field at Candy Cane Hill, where thousands of visitors passed by over the next three decades.
“We salute Rich for his continuous years of helping out around the farm in numerous ways,” said Tom Harbinson, Jones Family Farms & Winery facilities and hospitality manager. “We are happy that he was able to find Jennifer and reconnect her with the lost memento.”
Harbinson said that anyone who loses an item while visiting the farm should speak to farm staff so that a “lost item” card can be created and placed in the farm’s filing system.
“Please know that our fields are closed to guests when they are not undergoing public harvest,” said Harbinson. “There are delicate plants growing that can easily and inadvertently be damaged if fields are entered. We regularly are observant for items when our farmers are working in them, so if you lost an item during a visit, we might very well find it, even if it takes 30 years.”
Parkins first began metal detecting after returning from his service in the Vietnam War. He gained the interest after watching soldiers use such devices to detect for deadly mines.
“Ever since then, I decided to do this for a hobby, for fun,” said Parkins. “I enjoy looking for interesting things buried in the ground. This was the first time I decided to find the owner of what I found. I decided to give back, and it feels really good.”
brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com