March 18, 2012
Gayle Zompa first slipped on her engagement ring 50 years ago.
Her boyfriend didn’t get on one knee. Instead, Edward Zompa pulled out a miniature version of his class ring and proposed while the two sat quietly in the pews of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
But four months ago, the ring slipped off. She nearly lost it forever.
Gayle Zompa welcomed the ring back into her home in Galveston, Texas this week after losing it at Air Force Academy cemetery as she bent down to place flowers on the headstone where her husband was laid to rest 10 years ago.
Zompa last saw the ring in the snow that covered her late husband’s grave. In town for the 50th anniversary of her husband’s graduation, she searched frantically but left empty-handed.
“I wasn’t real pleased,” Zompa said. “I’d never lost it.”
Enter Richard Walker and the Pikes Peak Adventure Club.
For the past 15 years, Walker has combed countless landscapes for anything with metal. One of the first times he used a metal detector, he found a lemon-sized meteorite near Cotopaxi. Walker donated it to the Denver Museum of Natural History.
Other club members routinely get calls from federal agencies — such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — to find pieces of evidence.
The club has even had good luck with engagement rings: One member found a ring at the bottom of Prospect Lake when city officials drained it several years ago.
Zompa was skeptical the search would yield anything.
“I just didn’t have a whole lot of faith that they were would be able to find it,” Zompa said.
The search took 30 minutes.
Four feet from her husband’s headstone, Walker heard metal detector “beep” on something in the long, green grass. At first he thought it was a nickel. It turned out to be Zompa’s ring.
“It was what we call a good target — a loud target,” said Richard Walker. “It was just like I was on cloud nine in a state of shock.”
For Gayle Zompa, the find helped bring back memories of Edward.
A 1961 graduate of the academy, Edward Zompa went on to serve 25 years in the Air Force as a pilot. The Air Force sent him to Japan, Iceland and England, and each time Gayle followed him.
Ten years ago, he died of complications from heart surgery.
“He was just a super guy — would do anything for anybody,” she said.
After Tuesday’s find, the club shipped the ring back to Gayle.
On Friday, she held it once again.
“A nice happy ending,” she said.