Nancy Czajka remembers being up to her elbows in flour when she was baking one day, and had taken her rings off. It was sometime in 1965.
Her high school ring tumbled onto the floor and bounced under the cupboard – never to be seen again. Or so she thought.
“I tried to use a coat hanger. I couldn’t find it,” she said. “It was underneath the cupboard.”
This story started 51 years ago. But a roast beef sandwich, a dishwasher and social media eventually led to the 77-year-old woman getting the surprise of her life on Valentine’s Day, when one of her sons presented her with her long-lost class ring.
Czajka was a member of the Class of 1956, the first class to graduate from the new Frontier Central High School after the Woodlawn and Blasdell districts combined. She was a young married housewife, with a toddler at home, and soon to be the mother of a second son when she lost the ring.
“When my husband came home from work, I think I told him, but the house was brand new and there was no way we were going to rip out anything to get a ring,” she recalled.
The family forgot about the ring and eventually sold the ranch on Lorry Drive in West Seneca in the mid-1970s and moved to Hamburg. A third family bought the home in 1999.
Fast-forward 48 years, when Czajka’s son, Mark, now living in Maryland, posted a photo of a meal he had at Schwabl’s Restaurant on the Facebook page, “You are from West Seneca, NY because ...” He mentioned that he used to live on Lorry Drive.
A woman on the Facebook page asked how long ago, and listed the number of the house she used to live in. They discovered it was the same house.
Mark Czajka mentioned a piece of artwork his father made from printed woodcuts, which had been mounted on the wall in the basement. He and the woman both had photos of themselves in front of the artwork, and he was interested in acquiring it, if possible.
Last summer, the woman contacted Czajka and said she had visited the home and talked to the current owners, Jill and Dave Babel. They had removed the woodcut print from the wall and saved it for several years, but threw it out when it got damaged in a flood. The Facebook friend also told the Babels that the former owner had lost her high school ring in the kitchen.
Dave Babel remembered finding a ring. He was remodeling the kitchen, and moved one set of cabinets to install a dishwasher. It was the only cabinet he moved, and he would not have moved it if he decided to put the dishwasher at a different place in the kitchen.
“You never would have been able to get it,” he said.
To move that cabinet, he had to take off the countertop. And as luck would have it, after he found the ring, he kept it.
“I’m a bit of a pack rat anyway. I saved a piece of everything, old wallpaper and floor covering,” he said. “I keep it all in this box in the basement, and I put that ring in there with it.”
But last summer, he couldn’t remember where he put the ring, and could not find it. Then a couple months ago, he and his wife were talking about the ring and checked in the box in the basement. It was still there. They emailed Czajka.
Jill Babel cleaned up the ring and sent it to Czajka’s brother, Curt, who lives in Ripley.
He wrapped it and presented the box to his mother on Valentine’s Day.
“I said ‘Ooh, now what did you buy me? I hope you didn’t get me any jewelry.’ And he just smiled,” Nancy Czajka recalled.
Then she opened the box, and saw the ring, with her initials engraved on the inside.
“I kept saying ‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ ” she said, adding that the ring still fits.
The Babels were happy to return the ring, particularly after they had thrown out the woodcut print.
“It was nice that something good came of it,” Babel said.
He said that whenever he is remodeling, he puts mementos behind walls and ceilings.
“Whoever gets this house next will find all sorts of treasures,” he said.