May 24, 2011 -- Jesse Taylor Mattos, 90, has been reunited with his class ring, after 72 years.
Growing up in Dunsmuir, Calif., he had lost the ring in a butcher shop almost immediately after graduating from high school in 1938.
"I knew I had lost it, but I had never really thought about it," Mattos said.
He never thought about it, that is, until Dunsmuir city worker Tony Congi noticed the ring while doing routine maintenance on the city's sewer lines.
Congi, 52, noticed the thin part of the gold ring in the top of a bucket of debris, cleaned it up, and started his detective work.
The ring had all the clues he needed. Written on the inside of the ring were "Class of 1938" and the initials "J.T.M."
"If it had been anything else, we wouldn't have been able to trace it back," Congi said. "Had it been a diamond ring, we wouldn't have been able to return it."
Congi paid a visit to Dunsmuir High School and immediately knew from the yearbook that the ring belonged to Mattos.
"It was a small class, Jesse was pretty much the first one in there," Congi explained. "He was the only one with the initials J.T.M.
"It was so simple to get it to him," he said. "There could've been others in the class with the same initials."
With the new information, Congi contacted a local member of the Class of 1938, a neighbor who lived only two blocks away.
The classmate happened to be a friend of Mattos' who had his number from past class reunions.
Congi contacted Mattos, who has lived in Vallejo, Calif., since 1940.
Ring Recipient 'Shocked' By News
"I was just hoping, after this many years, that he would be alive," said Congi. "I wanted to give it back to him or at least his family. I was so excited to find out that he was alive."
Congi reached out to Mattos, whose wife had passed away just days before. Despite the sad timing, Mattos still had his sense of humor, and was shocked by the news.
"Doesn't sound like you've done too much maintenance in 72 years," Mattos joked to Congi, when he heard where and how his ring had been discovered.
Congi already had plans to visit his brother in Napa, Calif., just minutes from Vallejo, for the Easter weekend so he told Mattos he would deliver the ring himself.
"I could've just mailed it to him," Congi said. "But I wanted to be the one to give it to him."
Just a few weeks after the initial call, Mattos was reunited with his ring, courtesy of a hand delivery from Congi, whom Mattos greeted with a big smile on his face.
The two men talked for awhile and discovered they even had connections of their own.
Congi grew up living next door to Mattos' sister, who had been one of his first babysitters as a child. They also realized they had both been butchers in Dunsmuir at some point, and had mutual acquaintances.
"It was more than a treasure hunt," said Congi of the ring-returning process. "I was born and raised here, so there was history here."
"A lot of what I find, like coins, is so worn you can't make anything out," he added. "But this ring was perfect."