There's apparently a lot of treasure to be found in the lakes of northeast Indiana.
Think about it. You might be on the back of your boat, swimming along the shore or fishing off a pier, not thinking about your ring, necklace or earrings. And then, Plop!, into the lake the jewelry goes.
It happens. Actually so much that Robert Woolums has made finding people's lost jewelry a professional hobby.
The Leesburg man has been using his metal detectors to find people's treasures for about 20 years, often traveling around to help people locate their lost items whether it's in Indiana or Florida.
“My favorite is finding (things) and seeing people's expressions,” he says by phone.
One of his most memorable finds is a Holocaust survivor's ring, which Woolums found at the Mississinewa Reservoir. He also managed to locate a person's Rolex.
Woolums is not the stereotypical older man out on the beach in white, calf-high socks and flip flops combing the sand. No, this is a 31-year-old newly married father of a newborn who, while he describes it as a hobby, takes his work much more seriously.
He has about 10 different metal detectors for certain jobs, he says. He even scuba dives, which allows him to go out into deeper water to find an item.
But water isn't the only place he has found items. He has found things at beaches, parks, in a yard in the snow and flower gardens.
Woolums is one of many independent metal detecting specialists from all over the world who are part of the Ring Finders organization. The organization can be found at theringfinders.com and offers a directory of specialists in a particular area.
Woolums, who works in a body shop by day and then metal detects in his spare time, does the searches on a reward basis, like many of the people involved with the Ring Finders. He usually asks the person what the item is worth and accepts what is given. Sometimes it's nothing, other times he says he has made as little as $3 to $1,000 in five minutes.
“My reward mainly is finding the person's lost jewelry that is very sentimental to them,” he says.
For Woolums, and others like him, the real thrill is the hunt.
That's how it has been for Josh Kimmel. The 44-year-old from Celina, Ohio, who is also a member of the Ring Finders, used to walk the fields when he was younger, looking for Native American arrowheads. However, about 30 years ago, he suffered traumatic injuries to his eyes which left him legally blind.
That kind of put an end to those searches. “You can't exactly walk the fields and look for arrowheads,” he says by phone.
But Kimmel didn't want to stop doing what he loved, which was finding things in the ground. So he got a used metal detector. The first two days he was out using his detector, he found a woman's gold signet ring that had been missing for 30 years. “And I never looked back after that,” he says.
Kimmel has spent more than 25 years working with a metal detector to find people's items. And it's not always been easy. In addition to his loss of sight, he was diagnosed about seven years ago with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, which affects the nerves in the spinal cord and causes problems walking and balance – symptoms that are not conducive to roaming uneven fields, lake shore lines and other places looking for people's personal belongings.
But Kimmel says his hobby, now more than ever, has helped him with his condition. “The hobby has done so much for me,” he says. “It keeps me out there walking. Doctors are amazed.”
Not everything Kimmel finds is jewelry. He has helped people find lost property markers and keys. And not everything he hunts for is found. “Sometimes you find them, sometimes you don't,” he says matter-of-factly.
However, the one thing he does find is satisfaction when he is able to return something to someone that means so much, even if he doesn't get paid.
“When you see that expression on their face, they break down into tears or they are just floored, you know you did the right thing.”
Terri Richardson writes about area residents and happenings that affect their lives in this column that publishes every other week. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 461-8304.