It was a strange message.
Kari Guens Fleming, then of Maquoketa, received a call from Lee Templeton of Clarence. He said he had found a class ring belonging to Fleming’s sister, Jillian Geuns Hege.
The call came six years after Hege’s death.
The Geuns family first wondered if they should return the call. What if it was a scam? Several of Templeton’s previous attempts to locate the family had ended in dead ends, possibly from similar fears. But Hege’s mother, Becky Geuns, asked Templeton to describe the ring, and when he did, she knew that it had belonged to their late daughter.
“I feel that Jillian drew me in to finding her family,” Templeton said.
On one side of the ring is a maple leaf and the other a dancer. Hege was an avid dancer and owned her own dance studio. It was also inscribed with her name on the inside and featured her birthstone.
Templeton found the ring while metal-detecting at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, where Hege was an avid concert-goer. Her family never knew that she’d lost the ring until it was returned to them, years after her death.
When he found it, Templeton said he didn’t have regular internet access, and his first attempts to find the ring’s owner stalled. This fall, however, he looked up the name inscribed in the ring on the internet, and he immediately saw Hege’s obituary.
Listed in the obituary was Hege’s sister Kari Geuns Fleming, a former Maquoketan who had worked at Smiles on Main. Templeton lives in Clarence but works at Brad Deery in Maquoketa, and his niece was Facebook friends with Fleming. He carefully cleaned the ring and shipped it to the family with the assistance of Smiles on Main.
“I hope people in Maquoketa appreciate Lee for being a kind and caring person who really went out of his way, and that’s a small miracle in itself,” Geuns said.
Hege graduated from Geneseo High School in 2007 and died in 2012 in a single-car accident after having an epileptic seizure. Her mother described Hege as a “dancer through and through” and “country western all the way.”
“Everyone who heard her laugh wanted to laugh, too,” Geuns said.
The family has found solace in the fact that their daughter’s organ donation saved four lives. They are advocates for organ donation and have close relationships with two of the people saved by Hege’s organs. “Even though our daughter has left us, four people who were in critical care got a second chance at life, and that has helped us heal immensely,” Geuns said.
Templeton is understated and initially hesitated to attend the big pumpkin-decorating contest held in Hege’s memory in October. But he drove to Geneseo a day early to meet her family and had a long talk and dinner with them.
The next day he returned for the pumpkin-decorating festivities and got to meet more family and friends. Templeton recalls talking to one of Hege’s friends, who said he got goosebumps as they spoke. “He said, ‘Jillian is here,’” Templeton relayed.
Templeton is an avid metal detectorist. The frozen ground will make him put away his Bounty Hunter metal detector for the season, but come spring, he’ll be outside every chance he gets. He has found rings before, as well as other treasures, but he’s never found something that connected him quite so so personally with another family.
“This time of year, a lot of people have a great deal of sadness and loneliness and grief,” Geuns said. “For Lee to come into our life out of the blue was a totally unexpected but welcome thing.”