Joan Sheffield (right) was reunited with her wedding ring at the Hall County landfill last week after mistakenly throwing it away while cleaning. She and her husband Tommy have been married for 34 years. 
Photo: Joan Sheffield
Photo: Joan Sheffield

Gainesville woman finds wedding ring at landfill after mistakenly throwing it out

Joan Sheffield is counting her blessings after being reunited with her wedding ring that she accidentally threw away over the weekend.

The Hall County woman, who has been married for 34 years, was preparing dinner March 29 when she slipped the ring off her finger, wrapped it in a paper towel and placed it in her pocket.

Sheffield, whose mother died several days earlier, spent the weekend cleaning out the room at her mom’s apartment and packing up keepsakes.

“I just felt like I was in a fog,” she told AJC.com. “On Sunday, we didn’t have church and my husband suggested we fix a meatloaf. 

“So I did,” she laughed. “After 34 years, I know what he wants.” 

After eating, Sheffield continued sorting through her mother’s belongings, emptying out boxes and cleaning out her car, she said. By the end of it, her pockets had filled up with receipts and miscellaneous scraps of paper bound for the trash.

What the 67-year-old didn’t realize was that she had mistakenly thrown away the wedding band she’s worn on her hand for three and a half decades — two diamonds her father gave her alongside a larger stone she received for her engagement. 

Joan Sheffield realized the next morning she had thrown out the ring.
Photo: Joan Sheffield

It didn’t dawn on her until the following morning when she took a shower and got dressed for the day.

“I heard the trash men come and didn’t think anything of it,” she said. “As soon as I got out of the shower, I looked down at my hand and realized I didn’t have it.”

Sheffield retraced her steps and thought about the day before. She stopped in her tracks when she remembered placing the ring in her pocket. 

“Honest to goodness, I fell to the floor and thanked the good Lord we weren’t sick,” she said, praying that she would be reunited with the ring that meant so much to her. 

Sheffield, a retired human resources director for the city of Gainesville, immediately picked up her cellphone and called Dan Owen, the city’s superintendent of solid waste and recycling. 

Owen answered about 8:30 a.m. It was Monday, which meant the trash on the Sheffields’ street had already been collected. 

He was able to quickly locate the truck, which hadn’t gone very far, and immediately redirected the sanitation crew back to the landfill.

“We stopped the truck and didn’t let them pick up any more garbage,” he said. 

When the crew arrived at the Hall County landfill, Sheffield and her husband Tommy were there waiting. Sheffield said her husband was skeptical they would ever find it, but she was determined to get her ring back. 

At the landfill, the Gainesville couple spotted a plastic bag that looked familiar.
Photo: Hall County government

They emptied the truck onto a large concrete slab and, after about 20 or 30 minutes of sorting through their neighbors’ trash, the couple spotted a plastic bag that looked familiar.

The night before, Tommy Sheffield remembered using a green twist tie to shut the bag before hauling it out to the curb. After tearing it open and sorting through several smaller bags, Joan Sheffield found her ring wrapped up in the napkin. 

“I just thought about how fortunate and how blessed I am,” she said. “Even though my mother had died and I was in a fog, I knew the good Lord was on my shoulder and he wasn’t going to let me falter. Something that was that precious to me, he wasn’t going to let me do without it.” 

Owen said he’s received many calls from panicked residents over the years. But more often than not, by the time they realize they’ve thrown out something valuable, it’s too late. 

“Time is of the essence,” he said. “If she would have called me the next day or even later that afternoon, there’s not much we could have done. By then, we would have had a truckload of garbage buried at the bottom of the landfill and we would have never found it.” 

Joan Sheffield said despite everything that’s going on across the country and world right now, being able to locate her ring with the help of Gainesville and Hall County’s sanitation crews has lifted her spirits tremendously.

“It’s a crazy time with all that’s happening right now in the world, and I’m just glad we were able to help make at least one person’s day a little better,” said Johnnie Vickers, Hall County’s solid waste director. “It’s not a glamorous job, but these are the kind of moments that make it all worth it.”

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