Wendy and Bob Coyne were walking their dog one August morning, when Bob suddenly panicked, realizing the wedding ring he’d worn for 28 years was gone.
“I was beyond upset,” Bob said, not immediately recalling how it could have disappeared.
The high school sweethearts ran through possibilities of where and when he could have lost it. Bob quickly searched a couple locations, but came away with the sinking feeling that it came off the day before when he was throwing a football with their oldest son, Alex, 26, in Lake Mendota.
“I thought there was no way to find it,” Bob said, noting they were standing in four feet of water in an area that was 100 yards in each direction.
Wendy suggested getting another ring, and he said, “I don’t want another ring. That doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Then, Wendy remembered seeing a TV news story about a man who had a business finding lost rings. A Google search brought up Dan Roekle’s name and website. She emailed him, and within 10 minutes they were talking by phone.
Roekle offered to come out that day, but because of scheduling conflicts, they didn’t meet until three days later.
Bob still had a hopeless feeling, but decided to give Roekle a shot since his fee was only $50 for a water search. Land searches carry an initial $25 “call out fee” if they’re in the Madison area.
Roekle’s business mainly works on the promise of a reward if he finds the lost ring. And people can be quite generous when it concerns a sentimental item like a wedding or engagement ring.
Like the Coynes, Roekle lives in Middleton. So, they met at Marshall Park and the Coynes took Roekle by boat to where they thought the ring could be — by Mendota Mental Health Institute, where lots of boaters congregate on warm weekend days.
The couple planted four flags Roekle gave them to mark off the section where the ring could be. They thought they knew the area, but now they were unsure. “We really weren’t of much help to him,” Bob said. “We couldn’t narrow it down very much.”
Once Roekle began searching with his waterproof metal detectors and scoops, it took him about 45 minutes to find the ring, Bob said. With a big smile, he asked rhetorically if it had an inscription, and produced the personalized ring on his pinky finger.
Roekle, 39, has the only ring-finding business in the Madison area, and his statistics show that he’s been 53 percent successful on the hunts he’s been on since founding Lost and Found Ring (Lostandfoundring.com).
This is his third year in business, and so far he’s found 60 rings. A lot of his success is in asking the right questions, and he usually gets an accurate gut feeling about whether he’ll be able to find the ring.
“Every hunt is an adventure, which is what I just love about it. No one hunt is the same,” Roekle said.
And the stories behind the rings are always unique. He had one guy who had been married for about 50 years and had been throwing trash into a bin. The ring went in with it.
“He was so distraught,” Roekle said, telling the story of how the man climbed into the bin and started yanking out trash. Finally, the man pulled out a bag and heard a “clunk.”
“And boom, there was his ring sitting at the bottom,” Roekle said.
Roekle’s main job is in IT for UW Foundation. “I sit behind a computer all day, which is why I love going out and hunting for rings. It gets me outside, it gets me around,” he said.
He got into ring finding after a vacation in Florida with his wife, Ellie, when their children were young. They’d spend all day at the beach, and by 4 p.m., when everyone started packing up, out would come old, retired guys with metal detectors.
His son Carter was curious, so Roekle approached a guy who was wearing a thick gold chain around his neck with about a dozen rings on it. Turns out, this group of beachcombers went out every day in search of rings and other treasures. They each had their own territory.
The man’s hope was to reunite the rings he wore around his neck with their owners.
When they got back to Wisconsin, Carter asked if they could get one of those “treasure finders.” So they bought a metal detector and started going to parks, schools and playgrounds looking for coins.
“We thought a good day was when we’d make more than a buck in change. And it was fun,” Roekle said.
Five years ago, while poking around on Craigslist, he did a “lost and found” search and read a post from an Illinois man who had been in Madison doing the Ironman.
He’d taken his ring off for the race and put it in a pocket, and while changing back into his clothes in a wooded area, the ring had fallen out.
Roekle talked to Carter, now 14, and told him that maybe they could be like that guy in Florida, and help find his ring.
They contacted him, got the details, went to the area he thought he lost it, and an hour later, they found it. Someone had stepped on it, so it had cut into the ground and wasn’t visible. But once the detector went over it and gave its signal, they could make out its outline. “We got our shovel out and popped it out. Boom, it was the guy’s ring,” Roekle said.
Roekle said they mailed the ring back to the guy and his wife, and they, in turn, sent a beautiful thank you letter and included a check for $200.
“We were like holy smokes,” Roekle said, adding that they had been thrilled just to have helped the guy out.
They then sold their cheap machine, and used the $200 to buy a better metal detector. They played around with it for another year, until Roekle spotted another Craigslist ad. Four ads later, they realized it could be a side business.
Now he declares the rewards as income, writes off the machines as a business expense, advertises, and is part of an international ring finders directory.
He and Carter and his daughter, Kylie, 11, also search for phones, sunglasses, keys, key fobs, earrings — even a rosary once. Roekle keeps track of all of his searches, but only counts the ring ones in his success total because that’s what he is, “a ring finder.”
Roekle goes on more hunts for men than women. He’s not exactly sure why that is, but said probably one-third of his searches are for women and two-thirds are for men.
About 10 percent of his calls are what is known in the business as a “toss job,” a marital argument in which the person who threw the ring is reluctant to admit it.
As far as the Coynes are concerned, theirs was just an unfortunate event with a happy ending. They gave Roekle a $300 reward and found out he donates 25 percent of his fees and rewards to the private religious schools his children attend. His son goes to Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills and his daughter is at Westside Christian School in Middleton.
“He makes it pretty clear you don’t have to give him a reward, but obviously if he finds your ring, that’s a pretty big deal,” Bob Coyne said, noting that Roekle was also a great guy to work with.
“You feel like you’ve known him forever,” Wendy Coyne added. “He’s very personable.” They’ve offered to take Roekle out on their boat again if he has future water cases.
But it’s unlikely the Coynes will be repeat customers themselves. “Now I’m almost afraid to wear it,” Bob said of his ring.