Debra Mckenna of Brunswick holds her late husband's 1973 Morse High School class ring on Thursday. She lost it in Portland and it recently turned up buried in forest in Finland. How it got there is a mystery.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A Morse High School class ring, lost in Portland in the fall of 1973, just turned up under 8 inches of soil in a Finnish forest. How it got there is a mystery that began 47 years ago on Valentine’s Day.

“There was a lot of weeping when I learned that someone found it and made the effort to reach out and find me,” said Debra McKenna, 63, who lost the ring when she was in high school.

The ring arrived in the mail at her house in Brunswick last week.

It belonged to her boyfriend Shawn, whom she dated all through high school and college. She was 21 when they married in 1977. The couple remained together for 40 years, until Shawn’s death in 2017 after a six-year fight with cancer.

“He first asked me out on Valentine’s Day 1973,” McKenna said. “He left a little note in my coat pocket at school.”

They had their first date three days later, on a Friday night, going to a party at the Phippsburg Grange Hall. She was 16. He was president of the senior class.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Shawn gave her his ring later that year before heading off to college in Orono, and she said she likely lost the ring that very fall.

“It wasn’t long after I got it,” McKenna said.

She remembers exactly how it happened: McKenna and a friend went to the Porteous, Mitchell & Braun Co. department store on Congress Street in Portland. The building now houses Maine College of Art.

“I went to the restroom, and I took it off to wash my hands,” she said.

McKenna didn’t want to soak the yarn she had wrapped around the ring to make it fit her finger. Setting the ring aside, it slipped her mind, and she walked off without it. It didn’t take long for her to remember it, but when she went back the ring was already gone.

“I left my name and number [at the store] but never got contacted by anybody, and that was it,” McKenna said. “I never saw it again.”

She was upset and afraid to tell her boyfriend, but when she did, he wasn’t mad.

“He said, ‘It’s just a ring,’” McKenna said. “He was cool with it.”

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They had a good life together, living all over the country. She worked as a hairdresser. He was an entrepreneur and adjunct college professor. They had three kids, and there will be a third grandchild soon.

“I feel very lucky. I count my blessings every day. He was such a giving person, a deeply good person,” McKenna said.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

The ring was forgotten until last month when a sheet metal worker in Finland contacted the Morse High School Alumni Association. He wanted to locate the ring’s owner.

According to a Jan. 17 Finnish newspaper story, Marko Saarinen was using a metal detector in a forested city park in Kaarina, a small town in southwest Finland, when he found it.

Saarinen was excited when he first dug up the blue-stoned, silver ring.

“Usually my findings are bottle caps or other junk,” he told the paper.

The alumni association had no trouble identifying the ring’s owner. It bore the 1973 graduation date, and the initials “S.M.” were engraved on the inside. Shawn had no middle name, and no one else in his class had those initials.

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McKenna has no idea how the long-lost ring ended up in a Finnish forest. She said Shawn spent some time working in Finland in the early 1990s — but he was never near the city where the ring was found. What’s more, he had not seen the ring in 20 years at that point.

In addition to that strange coincidence, Morse High School’s mascot name “Shipbuilders” is written on the side of the ring — and the man who found it works building ships.

“Shawn used to say there’s no such thing as coincidences,” McKenna said.

With that in mind, she thinks Shawn might be trying to tell her something. Mckenna said she’s felt adrift in the two years since Shawn’s death, and the sudden reappearance of the ring might be a message: Everything lost is eventually found.

“He’s telling me to get my act together. To get going with the rest of my life,” McKenna said.

McKenna hasn’t spoken to Saarinen yet, but the alumni association sent him a Morse High School hoodie in thanks.

“It’s very touching in this world of negativity, to have decent people step forward and make an effort.” McKenna said. “There are good people in the world, and we need more of them.”

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.