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A found ring leads to a genealogical treasure hunt

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On his first time out with his new metal detector, Allen Walters was scanning the field behind Burger King when he heard the strong tone made by gold.

He dug 4 inches down and pulled out a clod. Breaking it apart, he found himself looking at a gold Ashland High School ring dated 1931. It was a girl’s ring, and inside were the initials MRN.

Walters, a retired forest officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry, immediately knew he had a mystery on his hands, one he must solve in order to return the ring to its owner, who would be about 106 now, or her children, who might be in their 70s or 80s. Actually, Walters calculated, three or four generations could have passed. Finding any descendants might be hard.

Dashing to the Ashland library and pulling out Ashland High School yearbooks, Walters could find no one with those initials in the 1931 class. He did, however, find a Ruth Newbry in all four of her high school years and reasoned she might have chosen to go by her middle name.

Her charming senior picture said she was in the octette (8-person choir), operetta, glee club and the “Rogue Annual,” the yearbook. Her photo carries a verse: “Ruth has a voice that’s strong and true; it lead the whole operetta crew.”

But how did the ring get in that field? Decades ago, the big, grassy field was a horse arena and later a car-racing track called Valley View Speedway, says Ashland historian George Kramer. Equestrians often removed rings, said Walters, because handling reins and saddles could pull off jewelry, possibly explaining the presence of the lost ring, which was found in front of the concrete remains of the bleachers.

Clearly, a professional genealogist was needed. The Tidings engaged Katie Post, formerly of Ashland, now of Tiburon, California, and within a day she’d nailed it down to M. Ruth Newbry, who was born in 1912 in Idaho to Reazin and Maude Newbry. Ruth’s family moved to Ashland in 1924 and were related to other Newbrys here. After high school, Ruth got a bachelor’s degree from University of Oregon and taught elementary school in Ashland and Grants Pass, according to her obituary in findagrave.com.

She moved to Eugene in 1944 and married Cyril Crabtree in 1946. She taught in Eugene for 32 years and died there in 1995. She loved music, oil painting and swimming, the obit said.

She had a daughter, Marianne Shorack (later Johnson) of Edmonton, Washington, who died at 80 in December 2018, leaving behind son Curt, of Eugene, plus, at the time of her death, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She devoted her life to missionary work and Christian counseling here and in Uganda.

Ruth’s son wasn’t reachable, but Google quickly turned up a grandchild, Matthew Shorack, who is pastor of Community Bible Fellowship in Seattle.

Contacted on FaceTime on Wednesday by Walters and the Tidings, a beaming Matthew Shorack expressed surprise and amazement that such a cherished memento (and high school yearbook photos) of his grandmother could suddenly jump (digitally) across 88 years and three generations.

“This is pretty exciting. I was close to my grandma,” said Matthew. “She was a very special woman and was the very first funeral I ever performed, in 1995. She was your classic grandmother in many ways, and she had a different side to her, fun loving, adventurous, and when we came to her farm in Eugene, she always put out curly hard candies for me and my brothers. She took us to lots of places. Her farm was heaven. She and my grandpa Cyrus had bees for honey and grew Christmas trees.”

When Matthew heard about the ring from Walters, “I had tears of joy. It was really nostalgic, and I’m thankful to find out more about that side of the family. As a kid, she was just ‘grandma,’ and you don’t know there was a whole life before that.”

When he read of Ruth’s teen achievements in singing and operetta, he was astonished because that’s what he did in high school, study opera, music and tap dance, even going on stage — as cowpoke Curly, the male lead in “Oklahoma.”

Matthew was off to inform his brothers Galen, a banker, and Bart, an architect, both near Seattle. He and Walters plan to meet in June and exchange the ring in person, when Walters is visiting his son in Portland. They aren’t sure what to do with the ring, but Matthew said he would like to see it reside in a museum for everyone to see.

According to family trees uncovered by Post, Ruth’s dad, Reazin, was first cousin to Earl T. Newbry of Talent, who, starting in 1939, served as a state representative for three terms, state senator for two terms and then in 1947, when a plane crash killed the top three state officials, became Oregon Secretary of State for a decade. His son, Lynn Newbry of Talent, a second cousin to Ruth, also served in the Legislature, from 1961 to 1974. He died in 2012.

Reazin Newbry and his wife Maud are buried at Mountain View Cemetery on Ashland Street.

As is the rule for detectorists, Walters got permission from the landowner before his search.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Ruth Newbry's Ashland High School yearbook photo.
Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsAllen Walters uses a medal detector in the same area he found a 1931 Ashland High School class ring.