This ECU class ring, missing 13 years, is back where it belongs. (Contributed photos)
Thirteen years ago, Dama Dupree ’01 took the ECU class ring off her finger and handed it to some of her high school students when they asked to see it.
Dupree, then a teacher in Florida, loved talking about her ring and said its unique design – a rectangular purple stone encased by a wide silver band – made for a conversation piece, not just with students thinking about purchasing their own rings, but even when she was out and about in Florida.
“It was almost like a story. It was very original looking. It always grabbed someone’s attention,” she said. “They would ask about it, and I could say, ‘I graduated from ECU.’”
But that day in her classroom back in 2006, one of her students took it home by accident.
“I asked my students the next day, ‘Hey, does anyone remember where my ring went?’” she said, “but it was never found.”
A message last month to the official ECU Facebook page, sent by Janna Wood Bartoli from Clermont, Florida, included a photo of a ring – a wide silver band, a rectangular purple stone, the year 2001 clearly engraved.
“Hello! This is a very strange message to send, but I’d like some help in finding the owner of this class ring,” Bartoli said. “I found it in a used piece of furniture and I’m sure the owner would love to have it back. Could you help me with the search?”
The conversation that followed led Bartoli to locate an inscription: “Dana E. Dupree,” she reported.
ECU’s social media team, which manages the Facebook account, emailed the Office of the Registrar, intent on finding Dupree.
“Could it possibly be Dama E. Dupree? … we have a Dama E. Dupree that graduated in 2001 with a BS in English,” responded Amanda C. Fleming, associate registrar.
Yes, that had to be her.
Fleming began tracking down Dupree, first locating what she hoped was her phone number and leaving a voicemail.
“As an ECU alumna myself, and also having lost my own ECU class ring, I really felt led to try my best to connect this ring to the alum who lost it,” Fleming said.
Four hours after the social media team’s first email to the registrar’s office and well after business hours, Fleming emailed again: “I found her!! I kept digging after I left her a message and I found her on Facebook.”
Dupree, now Dama McElderry, at first thought, “‘Oh, they’re trying to get alumni money,’ so I was only half reading the message while I was in conversation with someone. Then I realized what it said. I thought, ‘Oh my god!’ I immediately responded. It was just crazy.”
Fleming worked with ECU social media to connect her with Bartoli.
“I love ECU and I love to support our students, both current and former,” Fleming said. “It was so neat to help make the connection and experience Dama’s reaction when she realized her ring had been found after 13 years missing!”
So how did Bartoli find the ring?
“Somebody gave us some bedroom furniture,” Bartoli said. Her daughter was cleaning it when Bartoli heard, “Mom, look what I just found!”
She looked at the ring – a wide silver band with a rectangular purple stone encased – and she texted the people who gave her the dresser.
“Do you know anyone who went to ECU?” she asked, but the answer was no, so “it sat in my bathroom for a while.”
But on Feb. 20, she thought, “Why not try the university?”
Dama Dupree McElderry holds her class ring, which is back in her hands for the first time in 13 years.
Later that week, Bartoli mailed the ring to McElderry in Atlanta, where she now lives.
“I told her she is an angel,” McElderry said. “She had no affiliation with ECU. There was no reason for her to do that. She’s just an honest person.”
But for Bartoli, it was second nature and a valuable lesson for her daughter.
“It’s a really good example to my daughter that if we find something that’s really cool that isn’t ours, it’s not ours to keep,” Bartoli said.
When Bartoli and McElderry talked, they realized the dresser was given to Bartoli by the family of one of McElderry’s former students, one of those who held her ring back in 2006.
The student had placed the ring on the dresser to take it back to school the next day, but it fell and became wedged between the mirror and the wood.
“I love that ring so much,” McElderry said. With her ring back in hand, she’s sporting her purple in the classroom again.
“I work at Westlake High School, home of (Carolina Panthers’ QB) Cam Newton,” she said with a laugh, excited to toss a nod to her North Carolina roots. The Tarboro native continues to support eastern North Carolina, specifically Pirate Nation, from afar, talking up ECU to her students every chance she gets.
McElderry said she loves when her students become Pirates.
“I’ve had one so far,” McElderry said, laughing, “and I’m working on another one.”
Want your own class ring?
Today, March 15, is the deadline to order to receive it in time for spring commencement. Students can order rings online through the Jostens website.
Rings can be ordered any time throughout the year. Rings ordered in the fall are held to be presented during the Ring Presentation Ceremony, which is held each year in December. Those who make their purchase during other times of the year will have their ring shipped.
-by Kristin Zachary, ECU News Services