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Timepiece returns to family

The travels of Vernon L. Worthington's dollar watch may never be fully known. But thanks to the determined sleuthing of a stranger, the long lost, 66-year-old family heirloom now resides safely in the pocket of Worthington's only son, Mark.

Dana Price of Boring stumbled upon the old watch while helping a friend there move into a new shop. It wasn't until Price pried off the back casing to repair the timepiece that something started ticking inside him.

When he saw the hand-etched words Vernon L. Worthington, Sandpoint, Idaho, his sentimental side nudged him to try to find the true owner of the pocket watch.

I knew this watch had high sentimental value, Price said. It's way more than unusual for someone to engrave a name and location on the inside of a watch's back cover. That struck a nerve.

— Price spent weeks searching online through cemetery records, naval records and obituary archives. He learned Worthington died on March 22, 1994, at age 73 in his home in Medford. The obituary said Worthington was survived by his wife, Ona Mae, a son, Mark, and a daughter, Diane.

The first thing I wanted to do was give the watch back to Vernon's son, said Price.

None of the survivors were listed in local phone directories. But an Aug. 8 story on the watch in the prompted readers to offer new leads ' some of which led to Mark, who lives in Tacoma, Wash.

Late last week, Price and Mark, a pastor at the Tacoma Apostolic Faith Church since 1982, met at a Denny's restaurant in Tacoma. Price handed the watch back to its rightful owner.

Mark said his mother still resides in Medford but suffers from Alzheimer's disease. She has been unable to answer any questions about the watch, but the family plans on showing it to her next month in hopes it might jog a memory or at least make her smile, he said.

As near as both men can figure, Vernon must have received the dollar watch, manufactured on May 5, 1937, as a high school graduation present in 1939 ' prior to his marriage in 1941 and before enlisting in the Navy, where he served in the submarine corps on the USS Burrfish.

He (Vernon) did a lot of hiking. He must have lost it early in their marriage, Mark said. Our understanding is Mom and Dad had hardly anything, a year after marriage and living on military pay, so they wouldn't have replaced a watch.

The pastor said he was grateful to Price for giving him back a piece of his father's past, since he had so few mementos of his father's early years.

I don't have a lot of his early history ' a Scout knife and this watch ' that's about it, Mark said.

He said Price discovered things about his father's life that were a surprise to him ' including photos of the submarine his father was stationed on during World War II.

I had pictures of the submarine from the day it was commissioned and launched till the day it was decommissioned and sunk in 1969, Price said. We talked about how cool it would be for him to find someone who had served with his father on the ship.

Both men share a common passion for timepieces. Mark said he knew how unlikely it was that the watch would come into the hands of someone who would pull it apart, discover his father's name and location and begin a search.

I made a grandfather clock. It was the first piece of furniture my wife and I had, Mark said. This is just amazing.

As for Price, he's satisfied with his part in the puzzle.

The mystery may never be fully solved, said Price. But either way, this timepiece is back in the proper family.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail .