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The Fellowship of the Ring
by Bill Clough
Aug 27, 2014 | 1380 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gene Stephenson, left, with Graham Jesse of Portland who found Stephenson’s senior ring 21 years after Stephenson lost it during a snowball fight near Goldthwaite. The ring’s music fraternity letters and the engraving of “Old Main” are undamaged.
Gene Stephenson, left, with Graham Jesse of Portland who found Stephenson’s senior ring 21 years after Stephenson lost it during a snowball fight near Goldthwaite. The ring’s music fraternity letters and the engraving of “Old Main” are undamaged.
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Not many men can claim to have their own ring trilogy.

Gene Stephenson can.

The former music professor at Coastal Bend College is still amazed by the chain of events that span 49 years, including two others and a snowball fight.

In 1965, Stephenson was a senior at Sam Houston State College and a member of its jazz ensemble, playing reeds.

That winter, the ensemble, known as The Houstonians, was invited to perform at what was then the annual Brownwood Jazz Festival that enjoyed a national reputation, drawing such big-band names as Stan Kenton.

En route, on U.S. 84, Stephenson and his fellow band members stopped near Goldthwaite to have a snowball fight.

Snow was more common there than in Huntsville.

No word on who won the fight, but Stephenson’s loss became apparent about three hours later.

His senior ring — two weeks old — was not on his hand.

On the way back to Huntsville, the band tried to find the spot of the snowball fight, but by then, the snow had melted.

Enter Graham Jesse, the second character of Stephen’s ring trilogy. In 1986, Jesse, an avid amateur archaeologist, was scouring a lake near Brownwood because it contains numerous fossils.

“One of his routines,” Stephenson says, “was that he would stop at another fossil-rich spot near Goldthwaite to search along the highway. “He happened to see something gold glistening in the sun. He reached down and pulled my ring out of a mixture of clay and mud.

“It had been there for 21 years, but there’s wasn’t a scratch; there wasn’t any wear on it. It was like the day I bought it.”

Jesse held on to the ring. There was no Internet then, so he had no way of finding Stephenson, even though Stephenson’s initials were carved in the ring.

With the introduction of Facebook, Jesse posted pictures of the ring on his page.

Enter Walt Boenig, the third pillar of Stephenson’s ring trilogy.

Boenig was a senior at A.C. Jones High School when Stephenson was a sophomore. “He’s a trombone player and has lived in Las Vegas for the last 40 years,” Stephenson says.

Out of the proverbial blue, Boenig emailed Stephenson, asking if he had ever lost a Sam Houston senior ring?

Stephenson replied, “As a matter of fact, I did.”

Boenig got Jesse’s phone number and address. Jesse lives in Portland.

Stephenson and Jesse arranged to meet; late last week, Stephenson held his ring, missing for 49 years.

Because of the slings and arrows of time, the ring no longer fits.

“But, I’m going to get it sized,” Stephenson says.

The ring is a history lesson. It includes an engraving of “Old Main” at Sam Houston, which burned down in 1982, four years before Jesse recovered the ring.

It also includes an engraving of Sam Houston’s face.

“This is just bizarre,” he says. “The odds of this are astronomical.”

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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