"The ring was originally my step-grandmother Jean's and was a given to her by her first husband in 1959. She was an entertainer -- singing on radio, for troops with the USO, and later in piano bars in Chicago -- and Mac was an oil-monger. They moved to northern Wisconsin after marrying. Mac died suddenly of a heart attack in 1985, but Jean remained in the area tending to the bed and breakfast that she and Mac had built. Shortly thereafter, Jean met my grandfather; they married in 1990.
Throughout her second marriage to my grandfather, she continued to wear her engagement ring from Mac, in addition to many other fabulous jewels that were wildly out of place in the woods of northern Wisconsin. (They were often worn with a velour track suit.) She was a legend and a hoot! In her later years, she had become blind. In spite of that, she was known for showering friends with compliments on their looks . . . which, of course, she couldn't see at all. She was a kind and generous soul, a loyal friend to many.
My grandfather died in 2006, and Jean in 2012. Having outlived two husbands and with no children of her own, Jean left her possessions to close friends Judy and Wayne, who had been with Mac the day of his fatal heart attack. They sold most of her objects in a auction to benefit the local college, per her request, but saved a few items for family members.
I've received two of those items. One was a poster-size original print of her headshot that was taken in the late 40s, after she had won a radio contest that started her career. The poster had hung in her garage during her marriage to my grandfather and, as I child, I would spend hours admiring it. Judy remembered this, and sent the print to me shortly after Jean's death. It's now preserved and framed, and hanging in my living room.
The second was Jean's engagement ring from Mac, which I didn't receive until 2014. I went to visit Judy and Wayne and they surprised me with the gift, saying that Jean would have wanted the ring to stay in the family and hoped I would use it when the day came. I was honored and moved that they thought to pass the ring on to me.
Fast-forward to this year, and my boyfriend of 4 years and I are preparing to get engaged. He's known of the ring since i received it and was aware that I wanted to use it -- so, lucky me!, I've been allowed to be involved in some of the jewelry details. (Though, once the details are taken care of, I'm told the rest must be a surprise!) The ring is quite large for my finger so we took it to see if it would survive a resize. Unfortunately, the ring is far too delicate and we've been advised that it needs to be reset if I plan to wear it daily. We've decided to do that, preserving the stone and melting down the metal to be used in my ring.
I love the original ring and wish it could stay as-is. But I also know that Jean, who wore her jewels to her dying day with a velour track suit, would not have wanted the ring to stay in a jewelry box. She would have encouraged me to show it off. So, in December, we're having the ring reset by the jeweler who my mother's ring was purchased from.
I came across your website last night and felt like I had found the perfect solution -- a way to preserve the ring in its original form. The photograph would be my keepsake, rather than a design piece, and I hope the print would become another family heirloom that I can pass on with the new ring, my ring, in 50 years."
Sending a great big THANK YOU to Emily for sharing this fun and special story!
Grandma Jean's Ring by Emily Ollis
Turn prize possessions and family heirlooms into one of a kind modern art photographs.