Willie Higbee proposes to his wife-to-be Amanda at Longport Point jetty.

MARGATE – What was supposed to be a “peaceful” day at the beach turned into a harrowing experience for a Cherry Hill couple the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

Amanda and Willie Higbee went to church Sunday morning before heading out to the beach at Huntington Avenue for a Memorial Day outing with family who live nearby.

“After church, we wanted to enjoy a peaceful day at the beach,” said Amanda Higbee, 25, of Cherry Hill. “The beach was crowded, and it was pretty warm, so we sat down by the water’s edge.”

Higbee took off the two rings on her left ring finger to apply sunscreen.

“I put them in the Velcro pocket and remember looking at them in that unsafe pocket – the other pocket had a zipper – but I was going to put them right back on,” she said.

Distracted by the crowd that had gathered nearby, Amanda, 25, sat back down for about 45 minutes.

As the tide was coming in, she and her husband Willie, 27, decided to move further back.

“I swung my chair over my shoulder, moved back, set up my chair in a new location and then decided to go for a walk on the beach,” she said.

That’s when she noticed there were no rings on her hand.

Amanda Higbee’s wedding rings.

“We hurried back and when I got to my chair, the rings were not there in that unsafe pocket,” she said. “I had a meltdown and the tears were coming. I knew right away they must have fallen into the sand. I was inconsolable.”

Willie, and her in-laws started to look for the ring on the section of beach near where they were sitting, and the family members enlisted the support of other beachgoers, who also helped to find the rings.

“After about 45 minutes of searching, I realized I might have to consider the possibility that we would never find them,” Amanda Higbee, a communication manager for a start-up company, said.

Amanda’s sister-in-law and her fiancé used their cell phones to go online to see if there was anyone who could help find the rings and they came up with The Ringfinders of South Jersey on Facebook.

“When they reached John (Favano), he said we were lucky to call him when we did because he was in the area, and had two other calls ahead of us,” she said. “I eventually put all my faith and hope in this guy, a complete stranger. I’m very religious, so I prayed on it all night. My whole family was praying John would find the rings,” she said.

Engaged!

Favano is a member of The Ringfinders of South Jersey, an organization made up of metal detector operators who volunteer their time to help others in similar situations. He now lives in Wilimington, Delaware, but happened to be in nearby Wildwood when Amanda’s family called, he said.

“It’s really not a business,” Favano said. “We just try to help people who are experiencing that kind of chaos and are upset they lost something so sentimental and valuable,” he said.

Amanda and Willie awoke early and watched the sunrise before meeting with Favano on the beach at Huntington Avenue. She said she knew exactly where they were sitting because the couple took pictures the day before.

“We met at the beach at 5:45 a.m. on Memorial Day and after they explained how she lost them, I immediately established a grid pattern,” Favano said.

“There he was with all his gear,” she said. “We sat there in our beach chairs watching him go back and forth and settled in thinking it was going to take a while,” she said.

After about 30 minutes, Amanda felt the need to go, and she proceeded to the Wawa store to use the facilities. While she was there, Willie called and asked her to go to the ATM machine to withdraw some cash. Then, he told her to hurry back to the beach, because he had to go too.

“When I came back to the beach, I saw them standing together and thought, if they had found them, Willie would have called me right away,” she said.

Favano explained to her that he had searched as much has he could but did not find her rings.

“I started to choke up thinking I would never see them again. Then I noticed his clenched fist,” she said.

That’s when Favano opened his hand to reveal the surprise. He had found her rings, which were located about 6 inches beneath the surface.

John Favano of The Ring Finders of South Jersey, used his metal detector to find Amanda’s rings.

“I looked to the sky in gratitude, put the rings back on, hugged him, and then we took pictures,” she said.

One of the rings was not that valuable, but very sentimental, Amanda said. It was a simple gold band with small diamonds and rubies that was given to her by her mother. Amanda said her parents were married in the month of July and that rubies are the gemstone of July, which is also her birth month.

The other ring was her diamond engagement ring, which Willie had just paid off, two weeks before their second wedding anniversary, which they will celebrate on June 1.

Willie, who has just finished graduate school at Temple University and is seeking employment as a social worker, proposed to Amanda on the jetty at Longport Point, she said.

John Favano and Amanda Higbee.

Later that day, after giving Favano a nice tip, the couple visited the spot where they became engaged.

“There’s no way we would have ever found it without John. Now, it all seems like just a bad dream. We are just so grateful that he was able to find them. Now they have even more meaning,” Amanda said.