OCEAN CITY — With a little beginner’s luck and a lot of perseverance, a Virginia Beach man last week was reunited with his class of 1985 Wicomico High School ring found on the beach in Ocean City after 33 years.
When he isn’t working the beat, Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Sergeant Mark Paddack is an avid metal detector enthusiast who, over the years, has reunited dozens of beachgoers and visitors to Ocean City with valuable items and memorable keepsakes and had a direct hand in one of the more remarkable finds last week. In an effort to expand its community outreach efforts, the Ocean City Beach Patrol earlier this year wanted to purchase a metal detector to assist with locating keys, phones and jewelry lost in known areas of the beach.
Paddack, as the OCPD’s de facto expert on metal detecting and locating items on the beach, consulted the OCBP on the appropriate metal detector for its needs and goals that would fit its budget. With Paddack’s advice, the OCBP purchased the metal detector from the Discoversea Museum in Fenwick Island.
Paddack instructed OCBP Lieutenant Ward Kovacs on the basics of the metal detector’s operation and how to conduct various grid searches. Paddack then had Kovacs go out on the beach to practice on his own. As beginner’s luck would have it, Kovacs soon located a gold 1985 Wicomico High School class ring in the sand with the student’s name engraved inside. Kovacs held onto the ring until he could reach out to Paddack for assistance in locating its original owner.
As an experienced metal detectorist and a veteran OCPD officer for 27 years, Paddack possessed both the skills to find items on the beach and the detective experience to track down their owners.
Paddack was able to use the student’s name engraved inside the ring to locate Benjamin Roberts, a WiHi grad who grew up in Willards but now lives in the Virginia Beach area. Virginia Beach Police went to Roberts’ residence and informed him of the find in Ocean City. Roberts then called Paddack and after a brief conversation, the OCPD officer was able to determine he was the ring’s rightful owner.
“I hardly thought about ever seeing it again,” said Roberts this week. “Thirty-three years is a long time. The officer called and asked what year I graduated from high school, and I was like ‘why are you calling me?’”
The next issue was how to get the ring back to Roberts, a task Paddack and Kovacs hoped to handle in person. With a little good timing, Roberts came to Ocean City last week and met Paddack and Kovacs near the Talbot Street Pier where the ring was returned over three decades later.
“He offered to send it to me, but he really wanted to deliver it in person,” he said. “Since my parents still live up there, it just so happens I was coming up and we made arrangements to meet up with Ward and Sgt. Paddack.”
Through the investigation, Paddack learned Roberts’ class ring had been stolen during a burglary at his parents’ home in Willards in 1984 while Roberts was attending Wicomico High. Roberts was living with his mother and stepfather in Willards at the time.
“I think it was between my junior and senior year when my parents’ house was broken into,” he said. “A bunch of jewelry was stolen and that’s when the ring went missing.”
After the meeting with Paddack and Kovacs at Talbot Street, Roberts was reunited with the gold class ring that had been stolen, but he wasn’t sure what he was getting back after 33 years. He was pleasantly surprised with the outcome after the ring had been stolen three decades earlier and somehow ended up on the beach in Ocean City.
“I was really shocked by the condition of it,” he said. “I thought if it had been in the water or in the sand for 33 years, it would probably be damaged and tarnished beyond repair, but with a little polishing, it looks like the day I got it.”
Paddack said that is one mystery that might never be solved.
“The question remains to be answered as to how Roberts’ class ring came upon the Ocean City beach after 33 years,” he said. “We may never know. One thing is for sure as it is an honor to return the ring to Roberts where it belongs.”
For Paddack and Kovacs, the 1984 Wicomico High class ring returned to Roberts was just one of the early successes in the OCBP’s new foray into metal detecting. On June 29, Kovacs attempted to find a diamond earring set in platinum lost on the beach in Ocean City by Michele Stanciu who was vacationing in the resort with her husband, Steve. Kovacs was unable to recover the lost earring, so he reached out to Paddack to assist in the search.
Paddack met the couple on the beach and used a more defined and specific type of metal detector for smaller items. After about an hour and a half, Paddack first located the earring’s backing, then found the platinum stud with the diamond intact. Both items combined were less than the size of a dime.
The recovered high school ring and the diamond earring are just a couple of Paddack’s successes in metal detecting on the beach when he isn’t patrolling the streets in Ocean City. He is part of a larger regional group of metal detectorists known as the Northern Territory Gold Crew and has located numerous items of monetary and sentimental value over the years including lost wedding rings, engagement rings and high school rings for example. He writes accounts of the various success stories on a website devoted to metal detecting called The Treasure Depot at www.thetreasuredepot.com under the honor roll tab.