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Long-lost North class ring returned to owner

The mystery began in the final days of the school year when North High School attendance secretary Jessica Hoff was cleaning out a lost-and-found drawer in the main office.

In the back of the drawer, she found an old class ring stuffed in a tiny manilla envelope.

Not sure how to find its rightful owner, Hoff reached out to North’s partnership coordinator, Janelle Patenaude, who has been attempting to build connections with alumni.

Patenaude had two crucial clues as she began her effort to uncover the whereabouts of the owner.

The class of 1978 ring had the name Robin Marie Bishop inscribed inside the band, and the envelope had a sheet of paper including several handwritten notes with addresses and names Patenaude figured might lead to the missing subject.

Patenaude wisely chose to use a tool not available to previous generations of sleuths, even those solving mysteries four decades ago when the class ring in question was delivered to its original owner.

You guessed it; she turned to Facebook.

In a May 28 post on the Eau Claire North Alumni page, Patenaude shared a photo of the ring along with a request for help in finding Robin Bishop from the class of ‘78.

Nearly 40 people shared the post, casting a wide net reaching well beyond even the 2,100 members of the alumni Facebook page — and demonstrating the potential positive power of social media after too many high-profile examples in recent years of uses that are harmful and divisive.

Within 24 hours, the mystery had unraveled and Robin Pope of Rhinelander gave herself up. She contacted Patenaude and said Robin Bishop had been her maiden name — yes, she really went from a Bishop to a Pope and once lived on Abby Hill Drive in Eau Claire — and the ring indeed belonged to her.

Pope, 59, hadn’t been a member of the alumni page and was shocked to receive a message from a former classmate informing her she was the subject of the search.

“I honestly didn’t even know it was missing,” Pope said last week when contacted by phone at her Rhinelander home. “I thought it was still packed away with my yearbooks and other things from high school.”

The last time Pope recalls wearing the ring was at her 10-year class reunion, so she figures it probably went missing when she moved from Altoona to Rhinelander in 1996.

“I’d love to know where it’s been all these years,” she said.

Pope, who received the heads-up from the former classmate while traveling in Florida with her mother, said it was a pleasant surprise to get back the memorabilia from her high school days.

“It was a neat thing,” she said. “It was truly a blast from the past.”

In July, Pope posted on the Facebook alumni page a photo of the ring on her finger, next to the envelope where it had been stashed and the note from people who apparently had tried to find her in years gone by. Her caption: “Thank you to all who played a part in getting my ring back to me! I have no idea who found it or even when it was lost, but I’ve got it back after being lost for decades. Class of 1978.”

For her part, Patenaude was surprised the mystery was solved so quickly — “This was from 1978, not just yesterday” — and thrilled to play a part in a story with a happy ending.

“It was just a nice way to end the school year,” she said.

City plans land buy for affordable homes

A project aimed at creating new, affordable homes is moving forward with Eau Claire leaders voting soon on buying 20 acres of land on the city’s west side.

City Manager Dale Peters introduced the project in late July to the City Council after the city had been negotiating in private with the land’s current owner.

“That was right after we had secured a purchase price for the land,” finance director Jay Winzenz said of the timing.

On Monday night, the city’s Plan Commission will review an offer to buy the land for $150,000 from owner Paul Del Torto. The property is located off the east side of Jeffers Road, tucked behind existing homes between Truax Boulevard and Union Pacific railroad tracks. Decades ago it had been partially platted — planning an as-yet unbuilt road called Andy Lane off of Jeffers Road to give access to 14 lots for single family homes.

Though a large hill on the north side of the property means some of the 20 acres will not be buildable, Winzenz said the city expects to be able to create more lots for modest single-family homes. Though the city will need surveying and planning done to determine exactly how many lots, Winzenz said early indications are there could be 25 to 30 homes built on the land the city is poised to buy.

If the City Council grants its approval of the land deal and appropriating funds for it on Aug. 13, that would allow engineers to see how the land could be divided into lots and plan a road and utility extensions to serve the future homes.

The city also would work on rules governing the size and price of homes that builders would need to follow if they want to participate in the project.

“We want these homes to remain affordable so there will be restrictions on how much these homes can appreciate from one year to the next,” Winzenz said.

Councilwoman Kate Beaton is among the city’s elected leaders who is pleased that Eau Claire’s effort to encourage more affordable homes is picking up steam.

“We’re eager to get these plans in place given how urgent the issue is,” she said.

On July 23, the council decided the city should spend $500,000 next year on ways to encourage more affordable rental housing, in addition to $200,000 for Peters’ just-unveiled initiative for owner-occupied housing. Originally funding for projects tied to affordable housing was not slated to begin until 2022.

Beaton talked about struggles she faced with affording housing after college while she lived on a small stipend for a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer. Though her situation was just temporary, Beaton said it did give her some appreciation for housing insecurity some Eau Claire residents face on an ongoing basis.

Last year she did go from renting to buying her first house — the third-cheapest one on the market at the time — a humble abode she likens to what the city will encourage builders to make in the affordable housing development.

“It resembles the housing we’ll see in this project actually,” she said.

While Beaton has enjoyed the opportunity to build equity as a homeowner, she said the city’s lack of affordable housing requires a holistic approach — including rental units for people who are financially unable or have other reasons to not buy a home.

One project that has already gotten numerous city approvals will be seeking the Plan Commission’s OK on Monday night for a detailed site plan for apartment buildings in the Cannery District.

Known as Cannery Trail Residences, W Capital Group will create a 71-unit market-rate apartment building, followed by a 41-unit building with rents held down in some apartments so low-income families can afford them. The building will be on the west side of Oxford Avenue, between Kwik Trip and the Eau Claire Children’s Theatre. The city signed an agreement last month with the developer promising $600,000 in incentives to complete the two buildings and another $200,000 by getting low-income housing credits.

Other Business

Also during Monday night’s Plan Commission meeting:

• Associated Bank is planning to build a new building on Eau Claire’s south side after demolishing a vacant store. The bank location would be built at 2520 Mall Drive, where a building currently stands that had long been home to Hancock Fabrics, but in more recent years was a Bargain City and seasonal Halloween Express store.

• Beneen Rentals filed plans to build two apartment buildings, with a total of 31 units, on empty lots at 3205 and 3211 Fairfax St.