By Bernie Delinski
— FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Rick Shayne Fossett loved wearing his wife's class ring.
"When Rick and I started dating, he always wore my class ring," his widow, Lola Fossett, said. "He'd say, 'I had a class ring in high school and I loved it, but I lost it.' So I said 'you can have mine,' and he wore it on his pinky. He always kept it on, all the way until he passed away."
Last week, Lola Fossett slipped Rick's class ring on her finger.
Fossett, a popular Shoals disc jockey in the 1970s who went on to gain a successful and nationally recognized reputation in radio consulting, died of lung and brain cancer in 2003.
How the 1965 Plainview High School senior ring made it to his widow is a story that started shortly after Rick Fossett graduated from the high school in the northeast Alabama town of Rainsville.
A talented musician with a great deal of musical knowledge from an early age, Rick Fossett was hired as the Ider High School band director straight out of high school. But he was drafted in 1967 and eventually was assigned to the 60th Army Band, in Fort Polk, La.
Lola Fossett, who still lives in the Shoals, said nobody in her late husband's family can recall him wearing a class ring once he joined the Army.
She wonders, since the ring was found on the beach, if he lost it in the Gulf of Mexico since he was in that region during his Army years.
"You think of all the hurricanes during that span from when he was in the Army to when it was found, and maybe it's possible," Lola Fossett said.
In 1977, Bill Haugh and his wife, Kathy Barnett Haugh, were enjoying a day on Madeira Beach, near their St. Petersburg, Fla., home, when Kathy Haugh noticed a shiny object.
"It was on the sand in the beach," Bill Haugh said. "She was walking along and found it."
The couple immediately knew it was a class ring, and turned it in to a local lost and found, where it remained unclaimed.
"So they gave it back to us," Bill Haugh said. "She just put it in a box at the house."
The Haughs forgot about it being there until a couple of months ago when Bill Haugh came across it. Curious, he started researching.
He said he had something in his favor that he didn't have in 1977: the Internet.
The ring, with a blue center stone, had Plainview High School's name and the image of a bear mascot inscribed.
An Internet search brought up several Plainview High Schools but only one with a bear mascot: the one in Rainsville. So he called the high school and got the secretary.
When he told her about the ring, the secretary immediately thought about Judy Ayers, Plainview's media specialist, since she has worked there more than 40 years.
Ayers said she has yearbooks from every school year, and Fossett was the only 1965 graduate whose name matched the RSF initials inscribed inside the ring.
"It just so happened my husband, Bill, graduated in that year from this school, and he was one of his best friends," Ayers said. "I got home and asked him who in his class had these initials, and he immediately said, 'Fossett, Ricky Fossett,' " she said. "The thread began to unwind then."
The Ayers' home burned in July and many personal records were lost, so they no longer had a contact number for the Fossetts, Ayers said.
So, Bill Haugh contacted Phyllis Kirk, who was their class president and has numbers for many old classmates, including Rick Fossett's. Kirk called Lola Fossett, stunning and delighting her with the news.
"When she told me about the ring, I had just an amazing feeling," Lola Fossett said. "It's like you suddenly believe in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy again. I just burst into tears. It was almost an explosion of warmth. I feel like Ricky gives those to me. I call moments like that my 'Hello, Ricky' moments."
Meanwhile, the Haughs were told about the ring's owner. When Kathy Haugh heard it belonged to someone who also was known by the on-air name Rick Shayne, her jaw dropped. Kathy Haugh had heard that name — and voice — countless times on the radio.
After all, she grew up in Muscle Shoals.
"That was some coincidence," Bill Haugh said. "We were really surprised to find out it's from right there where she was from."
Lola Fossett describes that as "another 'Hello, Ricky' moment."
"I really believe God sends us little gifts along the way," she said.
Lola Fossett misses her husband, whom she refers to as her best friend, dearly. Still, she said, she is blessed to have someone who closely reminds her of him: their son, Shayne Fossett.
Shayne Fossett is in the U.S. Navy, fulfilling a calling to serve his country. Serving in the military also is a way to follow in the footsteps of his parents. Along with Ricky Fossett's Army background, Lola Fossett is a U.S. Air Force veteran.
Rick Fossett's keen ability to spot and promote country music landed him in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. He posthumously received a star at the hall in 2005, and had numerous gold records, including a few Lola donated to Plainview High School.
Judy Ayers said faculty members often use those gold records as examples to students.
"This is what can happen if young people would follow their dreams, which is what he did," Ayers said. "His story has been an inspiration to this school."
His widow said Rick Fossett's professional traits were surpassed by his personal qualities.
"He had an incredible gift for music, but was a kind, gentle giant of a man," Lola Fossett said. "You'll never meet anyone who ever met Rick Shayne who will say anything bad about him. He had a love for his family and love for the Lord.
"But out of all of his accomplishments, he considered his family the number one. He would have been so proud of his son, so proud of him serving his country."
Shayne Fossett remembers his father talking about his class ring, which includes a crest on one side that reads "Truth, Honor, Integrity."
"He was proud of it," Shayne Fossett said. "I'm really excited that we've gotten it back. I always heard him talk about it. And it's so interesting that it was found in the 1970s, at a time when there was not all of the information technology that's out there today. Now the technology is here and they were able to track it down to us."
He said his father had a tremendous reputation and was a favorite among everyone, including his own friends.
"You ask any of my friends I grew up with, he was always one of their best friends," Shayne Fossett said. "He was just a great man to be raised by."
As Lola Fossett gazed lovingly and longingly into the ring, the same way she has done many times since receiving it, she said as much as it means to her, it will mean even more when she hands it over to its permanent owner.
"I'm going to get a jewelry box and put it in it and take it to Shayne," she said. "He's a wonderful young man who has done so well despite losing his father. It's his."