Woman loses rings, finds faith in humanity

By: 
CARY HINES, Assistant editor

Photo by Craig Nickerson
Peoria sanitation worker John Schowalter stands with Peoria resident Melody Nickerson recently next to his truck. Schowalter found one of Nickerson’s three anniversary rings, which were accidentally discarded in July.

Melody Nickerson never leaves her jewelry laying around. Whenever she removes it, she takes it straight to her jewelry box.

But she was exhausted.

The new resident to Trilogy at Vistancia had just finished moving into her home last July. She was beat and her hands were swollen and she did something she never does. She took her 25th anniversary wedding present off her left ring finger and laid it on the coffee table. A napkin was inadvertently placed over the three-ring set and her husband wadded it up and unknowingly threw everything into the trash.

“I woke up the next morning and my heart stopped because I knew it was trash day and I knew my rings weren’t where they were supposed to be,” Nickerson said. “And I ran out to the coffee table and they were gone.”

She dashed outside only to discover that their trash had already been picked up.

So she called the city of Peoria and the woman she spoke to said, “Honey, the chances of you finding the rings are a zillion to one,” Nickerson said.

However, the woman told Nickerson to try to track down the truck that picked up her trash. So she went one way and her husband went the other.

Enter John Schowalter.

The solid waste driver who has worked for Peoria for more than 11 years was contacted by one of the drivers the Nickersons had stopped.

The Nickersons had found their man.

But Schowalter was about three-quarters of the way through his route and his truck was already half full.

He immediately stopped picking up trash and contacted his lead, apprising her of the situation, and then met the Nickersons at a gas station, where he explained what they were in for.

“I pretty much explained to them the process. ‘This is like a one in a million chance. There’s a really good chance you’re not going to find your ring.’ But me, personally, I always have hope, I believe in miracles.”

He told the Nickersons to go home, change into some work clothes and grab some gloves and water and meet him back at the gas station so he could lead them to the waste transfer station where he would dump his load and they would begin the arduous process of digging through about 30,000 pounds of trash.

“I had approximately 400 trash cans on there,” Schowalter said.

Nickerson quickly found one of her trash bags, excitedly proclaiming, “Here’s our trash bag, here’s our trash bag!” but unfortunately, the bag was not tied shut.

“I saw the bag was untied, so at the moment I couldn’t say anything, but I’m thinking, ‘uh oh,’ Schowalter said. “So we dumped the bag out and there was obviously no rings in the bag.”

While Schowalter returned to his route, the Nickersons searched for four or five more hours, but alas, the rings were nowhere to be found.

As Schowalter continued working, he prayed the Nickersons would find the rings, but by the end of the day, he knew they hadn’t.

It was time to do the “clean out,” something sanitation workers must do at the end of every shift. He explained that when garbage is offloaded, a blade pushes it out the back of the truck. But some of the trash stays behind on both sides. So at the end of the shift, the worker opens up both sides of the truck and cleans out the remaining debris.

During that process, “something told me to sweep my foot across the pile,” he said. “So I swept my foot across the pile and lo and behold, there was a ring.”

He had a hard time believing it was Nickerson’s ring as it was only a band and he was looking for a ring with a 3-carat center stone surrounded by two 1-carat stones. But he took a photo of it and sent it to her via text nonetheless.

“On his pinky, he had one of the small, little, tiny bands — I had one on either side of this ring — and I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s it,’” Nickerson said.

That’s when Schowalter found out she actually lost three rings.

He was just leaving the Glendale landfill.

“I was like, oh my gosh, I can’t go, there’s two more rings,” Schowalter said.

He turned around and sifted through the garbage he had just dumped, but was unsuccessful in his search. So he went back to his truck and asked the supervisor if he could climb into it to look some more, but still didn’t find them.

“Unfortunately, they didn’t all three fall the same way, so two of them got swept away in the trash and ended up at the transfer station, probably where they were at, but it’s just so overwhelming, there’s no possible way,” Schowalter said.

Despite never finding the center ring or the other band, Nickerson said everyone she came into contact with that day restored her faith in humanity.

“I wrote a letter to the city manager, and I said, ‘If you ever needed faith in the human race, and that there are still good people out there, and kind people, and people who care, the uplifting that I got from all of those guys, particularly John, but from all of those guys who didn’t know us from Adam and had been working their rears off in 120-degree heat and they cared, and they talked to one another like it was them who lost the ring, it was so heartwarming,” Nickerson said. “It gave me faith, it was just amazing.”

City Manager Jeff Tyne recognized Schowalter at the Aug. 14 City Council meeting.

“Our employees have gone above and beyond time and again, Tyne said. “I wanted to express our thanks on behalf of the city for the small moments of truth that you also provide.”

Nickerson may not have her entire anniversary set back, but she has the things that matter.

“My husband was just beside himself, and finally I looked at him, and I said, ‘Whoa, you know what, it’s just things,’” she said. “‘Not that I’m not crushed, not that I’m not going to miss it, but here we are, we have great health, we have a beautiful grandson, he has a granddaughter, we have beautiful kids, no, no, we are so blessed and they’re just things, let’s keep it in perspective.’”

She also has a new friend.

“I made a really dear friend in John, and I know that, and John will be in my life until I move away or he moves away.”

The Glendale Star

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Peoria Times

Peoria Times
7122 N. 59th Ave
Glendale, AZ 85301-2436
Ph: (623) 842-6000
Fax: (623) 842-6013

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