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Spanning the decades Long-lost ring brings teen and octogenarian back to Holy Angels

Caitlyn Littlewood never thought she'd choose her high school based on a class ring -- lost for 62 years and buried in three feet of sand along the Canadian shores of Lake Erie.

Or, that the long-lost ring from Holy Angels Academy would bring back a flood of youthful memories for an 80-year-old Eggertsville native living in Virginia.

But that's exactly what happened when Caitlyn found the ring in August during a trip to the Buffalo Canoe Club in Ridgeway, Ont.

"We were fooling around in the sand, digging a huge hole and seeing how deep we could make it," Caitlyn said. "We were three feet deep and we saw this ring. It was shining a lot. We saw this gold thing and we were like, 'Whoa.' "

After dusting it off, Caitlyn noticed the ring was etched with lettering from Holy Angels, the school for girls in North Buffalo. Small engravings inside indicated it belonged to a 1948 graduate with the initials KEK.

"I'm like, 'Oh wow, this must really be a sign,' " she said.

With that ring, Caitlyn got the idea to apply to the 150-year-old academy, because she desired smaller classes and change of scenery. As the months passed, Caitlyn also visited Nardin and Sacred Heart. The mystery ring remained in Connie Littlewood's cupboard when her daughter made her visit to Holy Angels.

"She walked out, and she had this smile on her face like it was the best place in the world," Connie Littlewood said of her daughter.

Mother and daughter drove with the ring to the academy's enrollment day in February. They began noticing car after car with "HAA" bumper stickers on them.

"We'll always say something like that about certain signs along the way," Connie Littlewood said. "It was just amazing how the whole thing kind of came together."

Holy Angels President Joan Thomas said Caitlyn and Connie Littlewood were among the last people who strolled through the door.

"Mom said, 'I don't think Dad's on board with us,' " Thomas said. "Would you mind meeting with Dad?"

Doug Littlewood watched three of his children become sports stars at Williamsville South, and he wasn't sold on paying school taxes for an elite public school her daughter would not attend. But after touring the school and listening to his daughter, the ring's message remained.

"I guess it's kind of tough to refute that," Doug Littlewood said. "I was pretty impressed with it."

When Connie Littlewood dropped the ring off on enrollment day, she felt the same way.

"I said to them that night that was just such a sign, that here we had found a ring [that] is Holy Angels and, all of a sudden, here she's chosen Holy Angels, and in her mind, she knew that's where she wanted to go."

Caitlyn, who will attend Holy Angels in the fall, was surprised to find out this week that the academy's alumni association had located the original owner of the ring.

Holy Angels 1948 graduate Kathleen Illig was about to have lunch in her Springfield, Va., home when she got the phone call she never expected.

"I thought, 'I can't [believe it]. What is she saying?' " Illig said. "I'm really just flabbergasted. I just couldn't believe that this actually was me they were talking about, that it's my ring."

Illig, 80, said she received the ring in 1947 during her junior year and never knew where she lost it. She was a member of the first class of students at Rosary Hill College and later married and moved across the country. Still, she has attended alumni events in which her classmates teased her about losing the ring.

"A lot of them would have their ring," she said. "They would joke that a boy never gave it back [to me]."

The news of its discovery sent her back more than 60 years to when she traveled to the Canoe Club to watch regattas and meet Coast Guard cadets. She described those postwar days as "thrilling."

"Unbelievable," Illig said. "It's an omen. I think, hey girl, someone along there has really put a touch on your shoulder, because you're at the best school."

Caitlyn also said Illig's e-mail address began with 'KK,' which is Caitlyn's nickname.

"It's really kind of 'goosebumpy,' " Thomas, the school's president, said. "It really kind of raises the hairs on the back of your neck because it's so special."

Thomas thought so much of the story that she told it during the academy's ring ceremony, when juniors are presented their class rings.

"Never, ever underestimate a Holy Angels ring," she said. "Put this ring on today knowing that you will only come to know its real power and real value as the years go by."

Caitlyn was glad that Illig -- after 64 years -- will now be able to cherish that value.

"I'm so glad she got to finally have a ring," she said. "I hope she wears it with pride."

e-mail: specht@buffnews.com

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