The ring had been missing for 48 years, and as far as Karen Autenrieth knew, it was gone forever.
Now, the ring is back on her ring finger, where it belongs, thanks to a stroke of good luck and the research of local historians.
Autenrieth, a local native who now lives in San Antonio, Texas, was thrilled when her wedding band was returned to her this month after she lost it outside her grandmother’s home in Morgan Park on a snowy day in 1973.
Her husband, Robert, placed the ring on her finger on Valentine’s Day 2021 as their children watched.
Irish tradition demands that if a woman finds her lost wedding ring, her husband must be the one to put it back on. And, after all the heartache the couple has endured, they are adhering to every custom.
“We don’t want any more bad luck,” Karen said. “We want all good luck now.”
Robert Autenrieth married Karen Berk on April 16, 1966.
Fortunately, Robert had the ring engraved with a message—“RA to KB, 4-16-66”—and that helped the couple be reunited with their cherished keepsake.
After the ring had been missing for nearly five decades, the couple learned its whereabouts overnight.
In early February, a man posted on a neighborhood Facebook page about losing his wedding band in the snow. As unfortunate as that was, it prompted a discussion about a local woman finding a wedding band in the dirt while gardening outside her home on the 11700 block of South Artesian Avenue about six years ago.
The woman looked for the owner to no avail, and during the online discussion about the recent wedding band mishap, local resident Clare Duggan reached out to Carol Flynn, of the Ridge Historical Society (RHS), about assisting with information about the ring from Artesian Avenue.
Flynn, always one to tackle a research project, happily responded to Duggan’s request to try and locate the owner.
“Sure, we’ll look into this,” Flynn recalled saying. “This is the kind of request we love. We love getting into this kind of stuff.”
Flynn quickly teamed up with fellow RHS Historian Linda Lamberty to investigate.
The initials and wedding date proved to be invaluable.
Flynn searched for the home address in the Chicago Tribune archives and found a January 1955 clipping featuring owner Albert H. Witt. Upon viewing his obituary from April 1955, the researchers saw he had a daughter named Clare Berk—and Lamberty learned that Clare had a daughter named Karen Berk.
The daughter had once commented on an obituary on legacy.com about being married in 1966, so Flynn and Lamberty knew they were on the right track.
They found Karen’s page on Facebook, and at 2:30 a.m., Flynn said, after only working on the project the previous day, she sent Karen a message. Flynn wasn’t sure if the woman would respond to a message from a stranger.
But, later that morning, she did. And, Karen said, after reading the details about the ring in the message, she had one thought.
“It’s got to be mine.”
Flynn mailed the ring to San Antonio that week. Karen picked it up at the post office on Feb. 8—and messaged an anxious Flynn with good news: “the eagle has landed.”
Because Autenrieth’s children wanted to see the ring placed back on her finger, she waited until a family party on Valentine’s Day, when they also celebrated the birthday of her son, Brian.
Autenrieth said putting on the wedding ring was like being reunited with dear old friend.
“I’m just really [appreciate] the people at the Ridge Historical Society for what they did,” she said. “It’s really wonderful that they would do that for me. They gave me a happy ending.”
Autenrieth said she lost the ring while helping her three children, all 4 years old or younger, into her car parked outside her grandmother’s home in early 1973. Snow had piled up, and she wasn’t wearing mittens. The ring slid off her finger, she said, and after all the kids were in her small Volkswagen, she “started looking and had no luck.”
She returned home and tearfully told Robert the bad news. They returned and looked several times, but the ring remained out of sight.
The family moved to San Antonio in the early 1980s.
Finally, as Flynn put it, serendipity intervened. While Flynn and Karen spoke on the phone for 45 minutes about the ring, they laughed and cried.
“Things just fell into place,” Flynn said. “It went really well for us. I just feel like it was meant to be. That ring was meant to get back to Karen.”
Lamberty said the “first kudos” go to Robert for having the ring engraved. She is confident that she and Flynn would still have found the owner, but the engraving was a clue that sped up the process.
“That’s what really made this possible,” Lamberty said. “We might have tracked her down eventually, but it could have taken forever to do it.”
Karen and Robert had matching wedding bands, and Robert had another one made, featuring the diamond from her engagement ring. Karen actually lost that ring, too, when it fell into the sofa after she took it off while doing the dishes.
Her daughter, Michele, found it two years later after Michele’s now-husband, Will, was looking for the TV remote.
Karen and Robert also have another son, Robb.
Karen said she might now wear both rings at once. In another stroke of good luck, the original is still shining.
“The ring’s in really great shape,” Flynn said. “It’s a beautiful ring. It’s a nice, heavy solid gold ring.”
Karen said it’s a miracle the ring is back.
Flynn, meanwhile, is grateful the ring was found in an age when social media and the internet make it so easy for people to find each other. And, for as much bad news is posted, this story was great good news.
“This is the good part of Facebook,” Flynn said. “Social media can be horrible, but it really can also help connect people.”
Lamberty agreed, pointing out that, for as difficult as life is right now, the reunion of Karen and Robert with their ring gives people a reason to smile.
“I’ve been saying all along this a feel-good story when we all need to feel good,” Lamberty said. “We all need something like this.”