Written by Quinn Walsdorf, Registrar of Collections
I came across this ring many months ago while rearranging our museum collection and, to be honest, I thought nothing of it. We have a fair number of personal items relating to the Middle Tennessee State Teachers College including graduation pins, a heart shaped STC pendent, identification passes, pennants, and a few diplomas. When places among items, a class ring does not jump out as being particularly odd.
I forgot about the ring until a few weeks ago, when, while entering records into new collections management software, I came across its accession documents. Along with our typical accession form and other paperwork was a 2008 letter from the Giles County Register of Deeds in Pulaski, Tennessee. The letter stated that the ring had been found on the banks of the Tennessee River several years earlier, and they were sending it to MTSU in hopes that we could find out more and perhaps return it to a member of the family. Always up for investigating a mystery, I, along with Gore Center graduate assistants Kayla, Rachel, and Aja, got to work.
Information obtained from the ring itself includes the year (1930), “BS” for Bachelor of Science, and the initials of “W.L.R.” engraved on the interior. According to the 1930 edition of the Midlander as well as the Bulletin of the Middle Tennessee State Teachers College (which has a list of those who received a diploma for a given year) Miss Willie Louise Roberts of Giles County was the only person with those initials to graduate in the years between 1929 and 1932.
On the trail with a likely name and a location, we sought out the Giles County Census records where we found Willie Roberts. It seems that following graduation, she returned to the family farm in Pulaski where she lived with her parents, Lucius and Nora, her two younger brothers, Bradford and Paul, and taught at a public school. Unfortunately, this is where the trail went cold. The 1940 Census record is the most recent to be published and we were unable to find out anything further about her life or even a formal obituary. We did find her listing on the Social Security Death Index indicating she died in August of 1978 in the same place she was born. Using findagrave.com we discovered that she is buried in Maplewood Cemetery along with her parents and her brother Bradford. However, we are still left with questions about her life, whether her brother Paul is still alive, possible marriages or children, and the life of the ring itself. How did it end up on the banks of the river years after her death? The answer to that question may forever remain a mystery.
Have questions of your own regarding MTSU history? Come in and see us!