More than a ring

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Locals banded together at car wash to find a stranger's lost Aggie ring

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  • From left, Steve Olfers, Polly Priess and Anthony Ware strike celebratory poses and show off the Aggie ring that brought them together. Priess is also an Aggie while Olfers’ daughters graduated from Texas A&M University. Duane Neffendorf and Alonso Castillo (not pictured) also helped return the ring to its owner. – Madalyn Watson/ Standard-Radio Post
    From left, Steve Olfers, Polly Priess and Anthony Ware strike celebratory poses and show off the Aggie ring that brought them together. Priess is also an Aggie while Olfers’ daughters graduated from Texas A&M University. Duane Neffendorf and Alonso Castillo (not pictured) also helped return the ring to its owner. – Madalyn Watson/ Standard-Radio Post
  • Anthony Ware, Texas A&M Class of ’94, proudly presents his Aggie ring after Duane Neffendorf found it by sifting through the waste in the wash bay at the Running Clean Car Wash, 501 S. Adams St. Not only is the tradition of the ring important to every Aggie, but it holds an extra special meaning to Ware who persevered through hardships to get the ring in the first place. — Madalyn Watson/ Standard-Radio Post
    Anthony Ware, Texas A&M Class of ’94, proudly presents his Aggie ring after Duane Neffendorf found it by sifting through the waste in the wash bay at the Running Clean Car Wash, 501 S. Adams St. Not only is the tradition of the ring important to every Aggie, but it holds an extra special meaning to Ware who persevered through hardships to get the ring in the first place. — Madalyn Watson/ Standard-Radio Post
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While washing his wife’s car, Anthony Ware felt his Aggie Class of ’94 ring slip off his finger.

Loosened by soap and water, the ring fell into the drain under a wash bay on Saturday, Jan. 23 at the Running Clean Car Wash, 501 S. Adams St.

When he realized it was gone, the former college basketball player lifted the heavy grate and got down on his knees to search for it.

Ware was determined to find it. After an hour of trying to fish it from the sludge, attendant Alonso Castillo approached the large man digging through waste.

The two worked together trying to find the ring. Soon after, the Stroeher and Son, Inc. general manager Steve Olfers joined the hunt and Ware told the men why the ring was so important to him. Both of Olfers’ daughters attended Texas A&M University, so he knew the old tradition tied to the lost piece of jewelry.

Inspired by Ware’s story, Olfers and Castillo continued the search even after Ware had to leave.

 From just that interaction, Olfers knew Ware as “a man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps.”

“I admire him and his tenacity,” Olfers said.

The next day, Duane Neffendorf joined the two men in search for the stranger’s ring. Neffendorf introduced a metal detector to the equation, but the men ended up resorting to shoveling and sifting through the mud.

Later that Sunday, Neffendorf found the ring. But then the men faced another problem — they didn’t know how to contact Ware.

Polly Priess, another employee of Stroeher and Son, Inc. and an Aggie, reached out to the Century Club to find his contact information.

All they could find was Ware’s address, so Olfers knocked on Ware’s door to tell him the good news.

“When Steve showed up at the door, I said ‘Don’t play with me, Steve. My emotions are fragile right now. I’m an eggshell and I’ve got a piano hanging over my head,’” Ware said. 

After talking him into believing the good news, Olfers showed Ware the ring safely locked up in his office.

“You couldn’t imagine the joy in his face,” Olfers said.

 

Background

During an interview with the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, as his two tiny dogs jumped on and off of him, Ware explained why he “just had to get the ring back.”

Growing up in Chicago, Ware would see homeless people and ask himself, “What if that’s me?” He realized the only thing that separated him from those sleeping on the streets was the roof over his head.

His family could not afford to always have electricity or heat in their home. His fridge was never fully stocked. They were always choosing between one thing or the other.

When Ware was a child, he asked his mother, “Why don’t we have a Christmas tree?”

His mother told him they could not afford it.

“She broke it down. There is no Santa. There is no Easter bunny. No such thing as magic,” Ware said. “We are poor.”

As he grew older, he understood his future was limited. So, all Ware wanted was a basketball.

“I figured nothing in this neighborhood is going to get me out of here except maybe playing a sport, and going to college, or going into the military,” Ware said.

Ware found a basketball with a hole in it and wrapped it in duct tape.

“It just had a hole in it like somebody stabbed it with a knife,” Ware said. “So, I got some duct tape — I stole the duct tape, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t a perfect kid but I did what I had to do.”

As a freshman in high school, Ware was followed by a group of men as he walked home from the basketball court by his high school. He considered the $3 he had for a bus ride home and his growling stomach.

“I’m a kid, so I’m not even trying to get home fast because maybe I can come across another court between my house and where my high school is,” Ware said.

Even though it meant he would have to walk part of the way home, he bought a pizza puff.

Then he saw the three men coming toward him and he started to walk faster.

“I tried to get away but they had made their mind up. I didn’t know if they had a gun, a knife,” Ware said.

One of the men cornered him, and they started to assault him. He tried his best to fight back, biting and scratching as one of the men punched him in the stomach.

“I was wrestling around with him so much and the other guy was trying to grab my feet,” Ware said.

In the struggle, Ware grabbed hold of what felt like a yarn needle and stuck his attacker with it so that he could run away.

He ran so fast that if he was in a race, he would have won, Ware said.

“I would have had the best time in the whole universe. I was outta there,” Ware said. “And the only thing I could think about was that god**** basketball.”

 

College hoops

While playing college basketball, life didn’t get easier.  

In 1992, Ware got carbon monoxide poisoning from a heating system malfunction in the Baylor locker rooms. As he and the other Aggies prepared to run out and play in the Ferrell Center, he heard the air conditioning start but didn’t think anything of it.

“Everybody started like doubling up. It’s like our feet weighed a thousand pounds. Everybody just kind of just stopped and it looked like everybody was drunk,” he explained.

Even though he was not the only one to get carbon monoxide poisoning, he was by far one of the sickest.

Ware spent over a week in the hospital lying in a hyperbaric chamber, and none of his teammates or coaches visited.

“Students that I had never met — they had only seen me play basketball — came to visit me in hospital,” Ware said.

Although his experience in the hospital soured the athletic experience for him, Ware still believes that his time at Texas A&M changed his life for the better.

“My life was made better by going to college,” Ware said. “Even if I had struggled with buying groceries, food and toiletries, even with the carbon monoxide thing, I did something that a lot of people will never do. And I did it without the odds in my favor.”

As he told the story behind the ring, after every vignette, Ware said, “And that’s why I had to get the ring.”

Within a few days of his own ring adventure, Ware discovered a man selling an Aggie ring that did not belong to him. Ware paid him $100 and posted about the find online in search of the owner.

“All I wanted was for him to feel the same way I felt when I got my ring,” Ware said.

Through his post, Ware found the ring’s original owner, David Hemphill, who lost it 25 years ago.

Today, Ware lives in Fredericksburg with his wife, Denise, stepson and two tiny dogs, Cali and Mimi. He also has two adult daughters, Gabrielle and Mikayla, who he proudly displays in picture frames throughout his home.