GENESEO, Ill. — Jim and Becky Geuns have received a special keepsake of their late daughter, Jillian Geuns Hege — her high school class ring.
Hege died July 27, 2012, from injuries in a one-car accident. Her parents did not know she had lost her 2007 class ring from Geneseo High School.
"In September our oldest daughter, Kari Fleming, of Yorkville, received a phone call on her cellphone from a number she did not recognize. So she let the call go to voicemail," Becky Geuns said. "When she retrieved the message, it was from a man telling her that he had found her deceased sister’s class ring and would like to return it to her family."
Geuns said her daughter contacted her, thinking the call might be a scam.
"I told her that, if Jill had lost her ring, she probably wouldn’t have told us, knowing we would have been angry," Geuns said. "I advised Kari to call the man back and have him describe the ring."
The ring had a dancer on one side; Hege had been on the high school Maplettes Squad and, after graduating from Geneseo, operated her own dance studios in Annawan, Illinois, and Geneseo.
The ring also had a maple leaf on the other side of the ring, centered with a clear setting; her birthstone is a diamond. And the ring was inscribed with Jillian’s name.
Geuns said Lee Templeton, of Clarence, Iowa, found the ring while doing some of the metal detecting he does in the Quad-Cities and areas in Iowa.
"While the ring could have been in many places, we can only speculate that she lost it at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds at a concert," Geuns said. "She was an avid country western fan and attended the fair every year with friends and her husband, Kameron Hege.
"If that was where the ring was found," Geuns said, "it would have had to be there for seven years or more, depending on when she lost it."
Templeton’s first attempt, to contact Geneseo High School, was unsuccessful. He found Jillian Hege’s obituary online, and it listed Kari Fleming as a surviving sister who, at the time, lived in Maquoketa, Iowa.
"Mr. Templeton’s niece is an acquaintance of Kari’s through her former employment at a dental practice in Maquoketa and they are also friends on Facebook," Geuns said. "He was able to locate Kari through his niece, through the dental practice.
"Kari asked him to leave the ring at the dental office in Maquoketa and a friend of hers mailed it to us," Geuns said.
She added that Templeton was unsure how he was able to reconnect the family with the ring.
"He said he felt that Jillian led him to her (Fleming)," Geuns said. "He took the time and trouble to find the ring, clean it up, research it and return it.
"Everything feels like a miracle to our family," she said. "Many people probably would not have gone to such great measures to return something that means so much to us, and the ring is in perfect condition."
4 lives saved
Geuns said they continue to find comfort in sharing stories of their late daughter. Donations of her heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas aided four people, Geuns said. They have met Tony Montalvo, of Chicago, who received Hege's liver.
"Meeting Mr. Montalvo is part of the grieving and healing process for us, Geuns said. "We also have met Vicki Georges, of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, who received Jill’s right kidney."
The Geuns are advocates for the Gift Of Hope, Organ and Tissue Donor Network, a not-for-profit organization that coordinates organ and tissue donations and provides public education about donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana.
"Jillian was an inspiration to us all. Her laughter was contagious," Geuns said. "She never let life get her down or hold her back.
"She believed in what she loved and, because she loved, she believed, and she taught us to have hope, faith and love. You must believe in what you do in life."