DUBUQUE COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) -- It's been more than 40 years since Ray Schmuecker saw his wedding ring. It only recently showed up in the most unexpected place, bringing two families together.
Ray Schmuecker lost this wedding ring in 1974 and it was recently returned to him after being found in a car motor. (Charlie Grant, KCRG-TV9)
Since last summer, Will Frye has searched for a critical piece of machinery for his car.
"I have a '69 Oldsmobile. It was my very first car I bought in 1984," Frye said. "The motor died on me the end of last summer."
Recently, he picked up the newspaper and found an advertisement for just what he was looking for. He gave the number a call.
"Ray said, 'I got this Oldsmobile, it's been sitting about 20 years,'" Frye recalled. It was just what he needed.
Frye went to check out a '72 Oldsmobile in Petersburg, Iowa. The car way past its prime, Frye bought it for the motor. Previous owner Ray Schmuecker remembers why he bought it brand new back in 1972.
"My wife got cancer and that's when everything kind of fell a part," he said.
Schmuecker first saw the car on his way to and from Iowa City for his wife's chemotherapy appointments for her breast cancer.
He loved the look of the car, and wanted a smooth ride for his wife, so he bought it for around $4,000.
"Had a lot of good times and a lot of bad times in the old car," he recalled.
Each of his three kids drove the car.
"All the kids got to drive it. Learned how to drive, and took it out on their dates, and run into the ditch and what have you," Schmuecker fondly remembered.
The car also took the family of five on their last vacation before mom Virgene Schmuecker passed away.
"It was a memory of my mom. It was a good car," Ann Cabana, the Schmueckers' daughter, said.
The Schmuecker family was happy to sell the car to Frye, who would get good use of the motor and help their mother's memory live on.
However, they didn't expect that to happen in the way it did.
While working on the motor, Frye found something unusual.
"I was kind of chipping away at it, I had blew it all off with the air hose, and I could hear, you know, nuts and bolts and stuff hitting the ground, but it was just one big grease ball on the floor."
But one shiny object caught his eye.
"It kind of looked like a donuthole, but it had a little shine to it, and I picked it up just to see what it was, and here I got chipping through it, it was a ring," Frye explained. "I called Ray's daughter to see if they knew anybody that lost a wedding band."
"I had said, 'well what kind?' And he had said, 'a wedding band.' And I said that my father had lost a wedding ring, but it had diamonds in it. And he said, 'this one does,'" Cabana recalled.
Frye texted a picture of the ring to Cabana, which confirmed it was Schmueker's long lost ring. The very same one he lost shortly before his wife had passed away.
He can't quite remember how he lost the ring. He was sure he had lost it in 1974 when he was helping a friend work on a vehicle.
Schmueker said, "that’s when I think it took my glove off, and it slipped off with the glove. But here 40 years later, the ring shows up in an old car. So we just can’t figure that out.”
His wife had replaced the ring with a new and nearly identical one.
"I really treasured it...so my wife, she went right back into town the next day and bought another one," Schmuecker said. "She knew that her days were numbered, of course."
Now about 45 years later, he's thrilled to have two rings.
Cabana has found meaning in it all.
"I just found out that I had breast cancer, and I lost my mom to breast cancer, and my sister told me that it's a sign," Cabana said, getting choked up, "that everything was gonna be okay."
What the family really has a hard time coming to terms with is that this all might not have happened.
Schmuecker explained, "I was going to send it (the car) to the junkyard a month or so before that. And if I would have done that, it (the ring) would have been gone."
For Frye, this has been the reunion of a lifetime that he's happy to have had a part in.
"I felt great that, you know, something real good came out of it."
Cabana remembers how her dad and brother often worked on the Oldsmobile, even asking her, "did you check the oil? Did you check the water" when she took it out for a spin.
They can't believe the ring was, sometimes literally, under their noses all along.