NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Mike Grueninger flew home from Sanibel to Indianapolis in April 2010 without his wedding band.
He was still married, but the ring was at the bottom of the Gulf, a casualty of beach football.
“I think I was more distraught over it than my wife,” Grueninger said.
While searching the internet for cheap metal detector rentals and flights back to Florida, Grueninger found Larry Spearing, a Buckingham resident who makes money off a hobby of searching the sand for lost treasure.
Spearing, 58, works through Ring Finders International, a group of independent contractors who hunt for lost jewelry around the world using metal detectors. Since he joined last year, Spearing has reunited six people with their rings lost along beaches and in towns from Sarasota to Marco Island.
Spearing told Grueninger to send him an estimated location for the ring using Google Maps, and Grueninger outlined a spot off the coast of Sanibel Island. Spearing got his gear out and went hunting.
But he couldn’t find it. Grueninger upped his reward price to $500 and Spearing went back out. He called Grueninger a week later.
“He says is your anniversary July 1, 2000? Is your wife’s name Erika?” Grueninger said, admitting he was doubtful at first that Spearing hadn’t just looked up his information online. But Spearing sent a photo of the ring with the words engraved inside.
“Sure enough it’s my freaking ring,” Grueninger said.
Spearing works on a rewards system, charging a flat rate of $25 to drive out to a site and only claiming his prize money if he retrieves the right ring. Each owner sets his reward price and Spearing has been offered between $30 and $1,000 per ring. No matter the amount, he enjoys the search.
“It’s the excitement of sharing something someone has given up hope on,” Spearing said. “It’s the hunt. It satisfies my curiosity.”
It takes Spearing three hours to search an area the size of a volleyball court, and sometimes watching him work can be like watching paint dry, he said. Each time his detector beeps, he digs into the sand and pulls up soda can tabs, rusted nails and pieces of crab traps.
“But then you see something in the bottom of the scoop and you just get that feeling of ‘that’s it. That’s gotta be it,'” he said.
In October, Spearing spent two hours in waist-deep water searching for a South Fort Myers man’s wedding band.
Ched Chase, 31, lost his ring the same way Grueninger did, tossing a football with friends at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park.
“We’d be out of business if men stopped playing football in the water with their wedding rings,” Spearing’s wife, Mary Beth, said.
Chase and his friends burned their backs in the sun looking for the ring for three hours with no luck. Chase called Spearing that night and was back at the beach the next day searching a space in the water across from a tree he remembered from the day before.
“I was standing out there because I didn’t want to leave (Spearing) alone, that poor guy,” Chase said. “Every time we heard that beep go off, my heart went up in my throat a little bit.”
But Spearing was successful.
“I had given up all hope of finding it,” Chase said.
Most recently, Spearing reunited a Milwaukee woman’s daughter with her wedding band.
Barbara Anderson, 61, and her daughter visited Barefoot Beach in northern Collier County in January. The daughter put her engagement ring and wedding band in the pocket of her jeans to keep it safe while swimming. When she noticed sand on her jeans later, she shook them clean and realized she’d sent her rings flying. Anderson and her daughter found one ring, but not the other. They flew home the next day to Milwaukee and Chicago, respectively, without the band.
Anderson returned three weeks later to a home she and her husband recently purchased in Estero. She came across Spearing’s site and called him out to the beach shortly after.
After just five minutes of searching across from an osprey nest Anderson remembered sitting near, he found the ring.
“I think the guy’s an angel,” Anderson said.
“Everyone’s got a story. When you lose the item, or the ring, the story stops and this helps to bring it back and continue the story,” Spearing said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.