‘He’s not here, but this is’: Treasure hunter digs up 1973 class ring, returns it to late owner’s family

Treasure hunter turns up treasured memories with long-lost Platteville class ring. (SOURCE: WMTV)
Published: Aug. 7, 2023 at 1:00 PM CDT
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ARTHUR, Wis. (WMTV/Gray News) - A piece of history has been returned to its rightful owners, thanks to the generosity and curiosity of one man.

Jim Winter, or the ‘Driftless Digger’ has been using his metal detector, finding both trash and treasures around the Driftless Area in southwestern Wisconsin.

Winter has found everything from old coins to toys and jewelry. He said you never know what you’ll find under the ground.

However, nothing could have prepared Winter for his discovery in Arthur, Wisconsin, last month.

Winter described the town as a little hamlet just north of Platteville.

“It’s not very often where I dig something up and I’m just amazed and speechless,” he said. That one I was. It was about 2-3 inches under the ground, under a root, so I knew right away what it was.”

He had found a Platteville High School class ring from 1973 with the initials M-V carved into it.

“Once I saw that there were initials on it, I knew my mission was to try and get it back to the man it belonged to,” Winter said.

He stopped by the UW-Platteville library to do some research, leading him to a disappointing discovery when he found information on Michael Vacha.

“The only thing I really found was an obituary, so that made me really sad that he had already passed away 17 years ago,” he said.

However, Winter said he learned Vacha’s widow, Denise, and some additional family members were still living in the area. He said Denise Vacha lives just a mile from where Winter found the ring, and he took it back to her.

“I think he (Michael Vacha) knows. I think he had something to do with it. I honestly do,” Denise Vacha said. “He just put Jim in our way to help us. And what Jim does is amazing. This is about him and doing the right thing, and more people should do the right thing when given the chance.”

Denise Vacha said her husband had grown up just down the street from where Winter found the ring.

“And all the neighbor kids hung out here in front of the church, that used to be a school,” she said. “So this was an area they were, of course, always at, always doing something in.”

With five grandkids, only one who ever met their grandfather, Vacha said the ring means a lot to her family.

“Any part of him that comes through now means something because he’s not here, but this is,” she said.