Lost and Found

Central Alumnus Reunites with Class Ring Missing for 50 Years

FIFTY-FOUR YEARS AGO, HOWARD CAPLINGER WAS LOOKING forward to his future. He was a new graduate of Central State College (CSC) and had recently married his middle school sweetheart. To celebrate his academic achievements, Howard purchased a class ring that he wore with collegial pride as he entered into the U.S. Army Reserve. Little did he know, his class ring would soon be lost, and as fate would have it, miraculously returned to him half a century later. 

Howard Caplinger’s 1968 UCO yearbook picture.

Thinking back to the 1960s, Howard chose to attend Central State because of its proximity to his hometown of Piedmont, Oklahoma. He recalls in his first year of college he paid less than $1,000 for books, gas for his commute and tuition, which was $5.25 per credit hour. 

When he first arrived at CSC, he studied mathematics and soon discovered his love of chemistry. Between semesters during his senior year, Howard married his wife, Karen, and they settled into an apartment that was one of six units off Hurd Street. Soon after graduating with a double major in chemistry and mathematics, he landed a job at Atlantic Richfield Company and then enlisted in the Army. 

In October 1968, Howard set out for basic training in Fort Polk, Louisiana – wearing his beloved CSC class ring. At one point during basic training, he removed the ring from his finger to wash his hands and set it on the counter. After drying his hands, he mistakenly left the ring on the counter only to return later for it to be missing. He asked around but no one knew – or admitted – the ring’s whereabouts. “I thought the ring had been pawned,” Howard admits. “I was ashamed I lost it.” 

When Howard returned to Oklahoma after basic training, his class ring was a distant thought. He continued working for Atlantic Richfield until they asked him to move to Wyoming or Alaska. With his roots firmly planted in Oklahoma, he found a job at Dayton Tire in Oklahoma City as a chemical engineer where he worked for 35 years. 

Life has been sweet for the Caplingers. The couple has three sons who all grew up at their home on five acres in Piedmont. Howard enjoyed his time at Dayton Tire and Karen was a middle school secretary for more than 20 years. At 60, Howard retired and the couple has spent their time volunteering and serving as Sunday school directors at their church, as well as spending time with their family that expanded to include four grandchildren. 

In fall 2021, Howard received a letter from University of Central Oklahoma Director of Athletics Stan Wagnon. When he read the letter, Howard was shocked – after 54 years, his CSC class ring purchased in 1968 had been returned to campus.

Wagnon reached out to the UCO Office for Advancement to see about using their alumni database to track down an alumnus from the Class of 1968 with the initials W.H.C., which was inscribed on the inside of the ring. Through some research, W. Howard Caplinger was reunited with his long-lost ring after responding to Wagnon. “I was just looking at the letter in disbelief,” Howard said. “I had not seen that ring in a long, long time – it’s just unbelievable.” 

Stan Wagnon, right, reuniting Howard Caplinger, left, with his class ring.

Wagnon was able to provide Howard with a little insight into how the ring came into his possession. Wagnon said that 20 years ago, a previous athletic director received the ring and placed it in his golf bag where it remained for 10 years. One day, the director’s wife found the ring and placed it in a drawer where it sat for another 10 years. Upon her passing, it was discovered in the drawer and given to Wagnon who worked on tracking down the ring’s owner. 

“I knew writing that letter was our only chance to find the rightful owner,” Wagnon said. “I really didn’t expect to hear back, let alone to hear back so swiftly and with such a great story attached! But I think part of my role at the university is to look after our own people and be sure our fans and alumni know they matter. Sending that letter was really just a simple expression of that approach, and I’m elated that it worked out.”

After all this time, the ring is in pristine condition. Howard admits the ring fits a bit tight but still enjoys showing off the piece of jewelry with its puzzling backstory. 

“I just can’t believe something like this could find its way back,” Howard says. “You hear of dogs making their way back home from across the country. It’s a different story to have a ring go missing in Louisiana and then to make it to the athletic director 34 years later. I wonder where it was all that time?” 

How the ring was stolen or misplaced at a basic training camp in Louisiana in 1968 only to be reunited with its rightful owner 54 years later in Oklahoma is truly a mystery. Howard admits he’s relieved he chose to have his unique initials inscribed on the ring.

“I told my Sunday school class about the story,” Howard says. “Nothing exciting ever happens to me; I get excited when it’s time to get a new toothbrush! So to get this letter…the fact that Stan took the time, it’s unbelievable. He was so gracious.”