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Lost APSU class ring comes home after 45 years in Kansas City

Don Mathis wears his 1966 class ring from Austin Peay State College for the first time since he lost it in the 1970s.

Evangelist Don Mathis was the first in his family to graduate from college, and he said Austin Peay State University’s welcoming atmosphere made it possible – so his 1966 class ring became a cherished memento until he lost it in the 1970s.

Forty-five years later, Mike DeVries of Liberty, Missouri unearthed the ring in Kansas City using a metal detector and was able to trace it back to its owner, who received it by mail on March 20.  

Don Mathis, 1966 graduate of Austin Peay State College.“It’s kind of an indescribable feeling,” Mathis said. “My wife accused me of being a kid waiting for Christmas, because day by day I’d go to the mailbox to see if it had gotten here. I was really excited when I got it … the ring no longer fits my finger, but it still lives in my heart.”

DeVries said he and a friend were metal detecting in a park on March 4 when he came across the ring, which sent him on an unexpected journey.

“I have a Facebook group of metal detecting enthusiasts and I posted it on there,” he said. “We always post the grams and how much it weighs, and the melt value of the ring was nearly $500 so it’s a lot of gold.”

One of the group members had access to a yearbook database through Ancestry, and she used it to identify Mathis based on the ring’s inscribed initials and graduation year. From there, DeVries found Mathis’s ministry website, email address and Facebook account and reached out.

“You get all kinds of messages as you check your email,” Mathis said, noting that he was suspicious at first. “I didn’t want to surrender any information, so I simply emailed him back with two one-word questions: ‘school?’ and ‘year?’ He emailed me back and said Austin Peay State College, 1966, initials DRM. I knew immediately, and a cold chill ran up and down my back.”

A few photos of the ring confirmed it was Mathis’s long-lost keepsake, and he asked to have it mailed to his home in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

“I could just tell he was super excited that the ring had been found,” DeVries said. “He didn’t remember exactly how he lost it, and as we went back and forth on emails, I told him how I found it. When I heard how excited he was, that made me feel just as excited to be able to send it back to him.”

Mathis’s conversations with DeVries also helped him solve the mystery of how he lost the ring to begin with.

“I assumed for many years that I lost it in Kentucky, because I was trying to learn how to water ski at Barkley Lake with a bunch of buddies,” Mathis said. “They said I could fall more ways than anybody they ever saw, and I figured I had the ring on my hand and it fell in the lake.”

Although Mathis had spent plenty of time at Barkley Lake, he only traveled to Kansas City once - to attend a Southern Baptist Convention event in 1977.

“I usually wore my Austin Peay ring, which tells you something because by then I’d finished a master’s and doctorate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Mathis said. “I was probably walking to the convention center with the Austin Peay ring on my finger and the seminary ring in my pocket, and I guess I thought if I’m going to a Southern Baptist Convention I ought to put my seminary ring on. Apparently, I missed my pocket, and that’s how it wound up in Kansas City.”

Seeing the ring again brought back memories of Mathis’s time at Austin Peay State College, where he arrived in 1963 as a transfer student from Murray State University. Mathis said he attended Murray for two years but struggled with applying himself to his studies.

“When I got to Austin Peay I was on academic probation, but they seemed to want me,” he said. “They took me on the basis that if I could do the work I could go from there, and by the time I graduated I actually made the presidential list, the honor roll.”

Mathis originally planned to be a math teacher, but his academic adviser encouraged him to pursue a business degree based on his credit hours. He said that decision paid off by affording him unique opportunities in his career as a preacher, and it also connected him with professors who inspired him to succeed.

“I did not have a great deal of self-confidence when I came to Austin Peay, to put it mildly,” he said. “I was very shy, but I had some professors that made me feel like I could do it … Austin Peay was not a perfect place, but it was the perfect place for me.”