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Woman reunited with class ring 40 years after 1972 flood

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Vesper Wright never thought she'd see her 1968 class ring after she lost it in the 1972 flood that devastated a large swath of Rapid City.

But 40 years later, she was proven wrong.

"Over the years it was completely gone from my mind. I never dreamed it would show up," Wright said.

Neil Ramlow found the ring in 1972 while he was working for a mobile home salvage company after the flood. At the time, he wanted to get the ring back to its owner, but couldn't find a way to do so.

Forty years later, the ring still in his possession, a friend recommended he get in touch with the editor of South Dakota Magazine, who was working on flood anniversary coverage. The editor there directed him to Rapid City librarian Stephanie Bents.

Bents assigned library associate Leanna Bussell to figure out who the ring might have belonged to. All she had to work with were the year and a couple initials. But for Bussell, the sleuthing work was surprisingly easy.

There was only one person with the initials V.M. in the 1968 Rapid City High School yearbook, and that was Wright herself, who had the last name Matson at the time. Bussell obtained Wright's contact information from a mutual friend and told Wright about the class ring.

Bussell gave Ramlow's information to Wright, who immediately got in touch with Ramlow about the ring.

"He just could not believe that this had gone so quickly," Bussell said.

Ramlow mailed Wright the class ring. Wright was surprised Ramlow went to such lengths over so many decades to return the lost item.

"He didn't have to do that," Wright said. "He was hoping that the people he was searching for were not dead."

For Wright, one of 10 children in her family, the class ring was more than just a memento. She worked for it, purchasing it with her own money. "I'd never had something like that," she said.

But four years after graduating, when the flood swept through the trailer court she was living in, saving the class ring in its jewelry box was far from her mind.

She and her husband managed to grab just a few photo albums and some clothes around 10 p.m. that night before finding shelter at her parents' house. A mere hour later, torrents of water washed away her home.

Though Wright was safe, not everyone else was. A total of 238 people died in the June 9, 1972 flood.

"I just remember hearing out my window cries for help. 'Help, help, help,'" Wright said. "We were just happy to be out, happy to be alive."

Just a few weeks ago, on Dec. 12, 2012, Wright was reunited with the class ring. It still fit on her ring finger, and she hasn't taken it off since.

"I was ecstatic to have something from the past that you though was completely lost, and then it's there," she said.

Now, Wright — who has lived her whole life in Rapid and works for a local law firm — is working with the library to participate in a video story the library is preparing for its page on flood history.

For Bussell, the librarian, this sort of reunion doesn't happen everyday. People often come in looking for old obituaries or genealogies, but rarely is connecting them with the information they seek so easy.

"It is so fun to hear the end of the story," Bussell said.

Contact Aaron Orlowski at 484-7069 or

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