Shawn Binn never knew her father, who was killed in a car crash when she was 2 years old. But through a set of fortuitous circumstances, she soon will get to know her dad a little better through his long-lost high school class ring.
El Capitan High School alumni recently held a 50-year class reunion, and an outgrowth of that gathering will see George Warren Binn's 1963 class ring placed in Shawn Binn's hands.
About 1990, Bill Halpin, a former Merced High School physical education teacher and water polo coach, found the ring with the initials GWB while he was watching his students play flag football behind the field house at the back of the campus.
Halpin put the ring in a drawer in his school office desk and forgot about it for eight years until he moved to a coaching position at Merced College.
Recent news coverage about the half-century El Capitan reunion reminded Halpin about the ring and he contacted the chairman of the reunion committee, Mike Bik, who tracked down Binn's widow, brother, sister and daughter.
The present Merced High School on West Olive Avenue was built in 1959 and was known at first as El Capitan High School until 1962 when it was renamed. As juniors, students could pick either an El Capitan or a Merced High class ring.
Shawn Binn is a speech-language pathologist at Carson-Tahoe Hospital in Reno. She doesn't remember her father, who was killed instantly on May 16, 1970, when one of the family car's tires blew out and it crashed into a boulder on the way to Yosemite.
"It would be lovely to get it back," Shawn Binn said. "It is really special how my dad has come back into my life. I have a few of his things but not many. It means a great deal to me."
Bik has been a history buff in Merced for about 10 years and leads the El Capitan Alumni Association.
Through a copy of the 1963 commencement exercise program, which listed full names of graduates, Binn's initials came to life. Bik contacted classmate Kathy Starbuck who put him in touch with Binn's sister, Peggy Figueiredo of Fresno.
"It's unbelievable," Figueiredo said. "It's wonderful. Over the years we tried to give things to Shawn. This is one more thing of her father's."
Betty Lowery of Sierra Vista, Ariz., is Binn's widow. A telecommunications specialist for American Express, she later remarried and has lived in Arizona for six years.
Lowery, a 1965 Atwater High School graduate, met Binn in 1964 and they had been married for three years when the accident happened. She is ecstatic that the ring will be passed along to her daughter.
"Everybody liked him," Lowery said. "He got along with a lot people. He was pretty social. We were typical young kids. We moved to San Francisco (where Shawn was born), where he worked in a restaurant and then we came back to Merced."
Lowery's late husband used to be a mechanic. He worked at a Flying A gas station and at an area packing shed. Lowery and her daughter were not hurt in the wreck that killed George Binn.
Bik said his 25 years working in the Internal Affairs Department of the U.S. Treasury honed his detective skills. He said George Binn's name was the first one that came up during the search for the ring's owner.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.