A class ring from 1949 has found its way into the owner's family's hands, decades after it was lost.
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Credit: Courtesy Nancy B. Kennedy

A New Jersey woman who was recently picking up debris from her favorite swimming spot tells PEOPLE she found something much more interesting: a class ring with a ruby-colored gem that belonged to a high school graduate from 1949.

Thanks to her curiosity — and the magic of Facebook — the woman was able to return the ring to the owner’s family decades after it was lost.

Nancy B. Kennedy, of Hopewell, New Jersey, says she took a June 9 trip to the local swimming quarry she has visited for the last 20 years. As she has done so many times before, Kennedy says she cleared trash and harmful objects from the ground at her usual spot by the water.

But on that day, she noticed a golden ring stuck in the ground. She says it had been covered in the soil for so long that a tree root had grown through its band.

Credit: Courtesy Nancy B. Kennedy

Kennedy managed to free the jewelry from the ground, seeing that it was a class ring from the 1949 graduating class of St. Hubert’s Catholic High School in Philadelphia.

“I was just stunned,” Kennedy, 60, tells PEOPLE. “The quarry has been opened since 1928, and there’s a lot of history to it, but it’s something else to have it in your hand.”

Kennedy, a former journalist who has written a number of books, says she had an aching curiosity to find the ring’s owner. Luckily, it had three initials inscribed into its band. With that information, Kennedy contacted the school for help.

She came up empty-handed, however, and the ring sat on Kennedy’s desk for almost two months — until she decided to post a picture of it on Facebook on Aug. 1, without disclosing the initials, to see if anyone could offer any clues.

“I couldn’t stand it anymore,” she says. “I was just too curious.”

The post was shared some 8,000 times and dozens of people commented, one after the other, asking if the ring belonged to their relative.

It was just two days after posting the picture that a woman named Andrea Forrester, of Palmyra, New Jersey, left a comment asking if the initials on the ring’s band were “JPW”?

Bingo: Kennedy had her match.

“It was such an electrifying moment, just like when I found the ring,” she says. “I was shaking, I didn’t know what to do!”

Kennedy’s reporting instincts kicked in again, and she requested a second source to verify the identity. Fortunately, Kennedy says, Forrester’s daughter saved a St. Hubert’s yearbook from 1949 instead of throwing it out as she had planned.

The family sent Kennedy a picture of Forrester’s mother, Julia Patricia “Patsy” Walsh, who died in 1987 in her mid-50s from a brain tumor.

Credit: Courtesy Nancy B. Kennedy
Credit: Courtesy Nancy B. Kennedy

Forrester and Kennedy decided to meet on Aug. 6 halfway between Hopewell and Palmyra, in New Jersey, at an Olive Garden, and it was there that Kennedy returned the ring to Forrester, who believes it was lost during a family trip to the quarry in the 1970s.

Surrounded by Forrester’s family, Kennedy even gave a toast to Julia with champagne.

“I was really excited to give this little bit of history back to Andrea,” Kennedy says. “There she was, standing in front of me, with the ring on her finger, and I just choked up — it struck me that it was a meaningful moment for this family.”

It seems Kennedy has a bit of a knack for connecting people with lost items: She runs a Facebook page where she helps people find their lost earrings so they can have a pair again.

Kennedy says she plans to take Forrester to the Quarry Swim Club soon, so she can show her where the ring was found and give Forrester the chance to stand in the same spot her mother visited so many years ago.