Missing ring from 1906 reconnects families in Benton County
Metal detecting hobby reaps rewards
BENTON COUNTY — On a recent summer day, Casey Oberreuter of Cedar Rapids struck gold. It's one of the rewards of his hobby — metal detecting.
Oberreuter picked up the hobby from his dad, Gary Oberreuter of Watkins.
Casey is married to Mindy Oberreuter and has a daughter, Evey, 2 1/2, and metal detecting has become a family hobby.
“We really do it for the history,” he says.
The Oberreuters enjoys the sun and gentle breezes of exploring outside and have have made a display of their finds, which include a 1911 wheat penny and many other coins, two World War II Army buttons, a military cartridge that was made in 1934 and other historical items. It's not the value but the history behind these unearthed items that fascinates them. He just likes to unearth things that otherwise would have been buried forever.
Sometimes these items come with stories that have been buried just as long.
One day, in a barren old church yard in Benton County, he was sweeping the metal detector from side to side when he made his best find ever. He unearthed a man's wedding ring from 1906. It was engraved with the bridal couple's initials “EO — JA” and the date “9-5-06.”
Oberreuter knew he had to find out the rest of the story.
He contacted Trinity Lutheran Church in Walford, which would have the records of the old country church that was moved to Norway in 1948.
Church secretary Valerie Wiley was able to find the record of the wedding in the old Norwegian record books, but she didn't know the family and contacted me since I was familiar with Norwegian as well as the church record books.
As it turned out, I knew the couple.
Elizabeth Olson was my great-aunt. John Anderson and Elizabeth Olson were children of Norwegian immigrants. Their families were active in North Benton Lutheran Church — likely where Elizabeth and John met and fell in love.
Only one of their grandchildren still lives in Iowa — Doug Anderson of Newhall.
When I contacted Oberreuter, 32, he remembered Anderson. He had taken his daughter, Jenny, to the Benton Community High School homecoming as freshmen.
“I knew my grandmother very well,” he says, “but my grandfather died when I was only 14 months old.”
When Doug put the ring on over his own wedding ring, there was room to spare.
“He had very large hands. And I didn't know that,” he says.Anderson has treasured his few mementos of his grandfather: his bowler hat, his cane, the wedding picture and now the ring.
“I wanted Doug to have the ring, because his dad, Luther, was the only child to stay in Iowa and Doug was the only one of his siblings to stay in Iowa. For that reason, I think the ring should also stay here,” Oberreuter says.
Because the gold ring was in perfect condition when Casey found it, Anderson wonders if his grandfather lost the ring on his wedding day in 1906. Or perhaps he lost it in 1948 when the last service was held at the country church?
The 70-ton church was moved to town that winter. North Benton and Bethlehem Lutheran (the town church) merged to become Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Mildred Anderson Bakken (daughter of John and Elizabeth Anderson), who was born in 1908, wrote of her remembrances of Benton Lutheran: “I will always remember the white frame church with trees around it on a country road. It was a beautiful picture. To the north there was a shelter for the horses that brought you to church. It had a long wall, shorter walls at each end, and it had a slanting roof. It gave protection from the wind, sun, rain and snow. In the winter, we went in a bobsled with blankets tucked around us. There was a spring seat for the driver.
“The church members shared a pastor with a congregation in Calamus, Iowa, about 80 miles away. The pastor came by train before everyone had cars. I think the pastors would take turns living in either Calamus or Norway.”
After the old church was moved to town and merged with Bethlehem Lutheran to become Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, a dedication was held in 1949. The church has seen generations of families. Some parishioners have had family going back as far as great-great grandparents. Doug's great-great grandparents, great-grandparents and grandparents all attended the old church.
Ten years ago, the historic building was sold to Prairie View Christian Church and a new Trinity Lutheran Church was built in Walford. The church, now under the leadership of Pastor Travis Borkovsky, celebrated its 10th anniversary in Walford on June 29.
For his part, Oberreuter is just happy to have returned a part of the history — the gold ring from a wedding held at the country church in 1906 — to the bridal couple's grandson.