ANCHORAGE, Alaska >> On vacation in Hawaii in November, Sam Simeon presented his girlfriend, Julie Douthit, with a ring. They told family members who were on vacation with them that they were going to get married as soon as they got back home to Glennallen. After that, the plan was for Julie to travel to San Diego where Sam is stationed with the Navy.
Sam, 20, and Julie, 19, are Glennallen High School sweethearts, king and queen of their senior prom in 2012.
Julie knew the ring was coming, she said. They didn’t have the means for a fancy wedding or for both of them to have wedding bands. Instead, there was just the engagement ring. She picked it out. It was made of gold with two heart-shaped birth stones, one emerald and one topaz. Their names were engraved inside along with the phrase, "Our love grows stronger." It wasn’t until Julie slipped it on her finger in Hawaii, though, that she noticed the ring was just the tiniest bit too big.
"Maybe just half a size," she said.
A few days after their announcement, Sam and Julie went with family to Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island. Everyone headed for the water to play in the waves. Julie checked her finger as she made her way into the surf. The ring was there. But an instant later in the water, she said, it was gone.
"I was devastated," Julie said. "I asked for goggles. I looked. It was just gone. I was incredibly mad at myself because I should have just taken it off."
Julie climbed out of the water and began to cry, she said. Julie’s would-be father-in-law is Jon Simeon. He happens to be an Alaska State Wildlife Trooper who appears on the National Geographic Channel show "Alaska State Troopers." Jon Simeon told me that he and Sam snorkeled around for an hour looking for the ring in waist-deep water. The waves were big. They finally gave up, he said
"The chances of us finding were extremely slim," he said.
The next week, they came back to the beach and ran into Jason Freitas, a Hawaii County lifeguard, who was on his lunch break looking for trinkets with a metal detector. Jon Simeon asked him to look for the ring, and said he’d pay a reward. Freitas looked in the sand, but came up with nothing. Julie, Sam and the rest of the family went back to Alaska.
When a couple loses an engagement ring before the wedding, everybody starts reading into it, Julie said. This was true for trooper Jon Simeon.
"My wife and I were hurting at the heart," he said. "Maybe this is not meant to be, maybe they are getting married too young."
But Julie didn’t care if they had a ring or not.
"In my heart, there is no way me and Sam aren’t going to be together," she said. "I love that boy more than anything."
And so they were married at the courthouse in Glenallen on Nov. 25. They did not exchange rings. Sam went back to San Diego. Julie went to Fairbanks waiting for orders from the Navy to help move her down to be with him. She felt sad to be without the ring, she said, but glad to be married.
"To me I was just happy to have Sam," she said.
Meanwhile, a week or so after the Simeons left Hawaii, Freitas, the lifeguard, was back on Hapuna Beach when he came across a friend of his, a metal detector hobbyist named Rick Pepperworth. Pepperworth, who works as a plumbing contractor, has a nice detector that works under water. He was at the beach that day with his identical twin brother, Nick Pepperworth, who is vice president of Udelhoven Oilfield System Services in Anchorage. Like many Alaskans, Nick Pepperworth was visiting Hawaii over Thanksgiving.
"I mentioned (the Simeon ring story) to him," Freitas told me when I reached him at Hapuna Beach this week. Freitas described the ring to the brothers. Not fancy he said, just a gold band with heart-shaped birthstones in it and some engraving on the inside. What Pepperworth said next came as a surprise.
"I said, ‘I found that ring last Wednesday!’" Rick Pepperworth told me when I tracked him down Tuesday on the Big Island.
The ring was underwater, Rick Pepperworth said, buried in 10 inches of sand. He was lucky to find it. It only gave him a faint signal. (Pepperworth has found a number of lost rings, he told me. Hotels call regularly. "I have found some really whopping big diamond rings for some desperate people,’ he said.)
And here’s where the story gets very Alaska. Freitas remembered that Simeon was an Alaska State Trooper on the National Geographic show. And it happened that the show was on when Nick and Rick Pepperworth returned to their condo after talking with Freitas at the beach.
Nick Pepperworth, who lives in Anchorage, has a coworker who is married to a state trooper. It didn’t take long before Nick was on the phone with Jon Simeon, arranging to return the ring. Jon and his wife, Marce, told their son about it, and all of them decided to surprise Julie. Nick Pepperworth brought it back to Alaska. Jon and Marce wrapped it up and put it under the Christmas tree. When Julie opened it, she was totally shocked.
"I opened it and pulled it out the only thing I could say was, ‘Oh my God,’" she said. "What are the odds?"
Of course when a couple loses an engagement ring in the Hawaiian ocean and it gets buried in the sand and a stranger finds it and manages to somehow get it back to them thousands of miles away in Alaska, everybody reads into that, too.
"If they can find this wedding ring," Jon Simeon said. "Then this is meant to be. They are meant to be together forever."