A love story...with a happy ending
Some people enjoy stories of tragedy, while others prefer romance. Some enjoy mystery and suspense with an element of surprise, while others like a bit of the surreal. And heroes and despairing maidens are always popular characters.
Lois Croonquist's story is sure to please everyone, as it includes all of those elements.
The Alexandria woman's story started out as a romance when, 13 years ago, her prince charming, Chad Croonquist, proposed to her. He gave her a beautiful diamond and gold engagement ring on her birthday, July 23.
The happy couple spent the next year planning their wedding, set for September 27, 1997.
Just weeks before the fairytale day, tragedy struck. The two were enjoying a summer outing on Lake Chippewa near Brandon with their friend, Rick Korkowski. Lois was water-skiing, and found that her ring was interfering with her grasp on the ski rope.
"The ring has a wide band, and was cutting into my finger when I'd hold the rope," she explained. Figuring she'd end up losing the ring or possibly her finger, she decided it would be best to remove it.
While in the water, life vest and skis still on, she took the ring off her finger and held it out to Chad, who leaned from the boat over the water, directing her to slip it on his finger.
"I can still see it clearly," Chad said. "She put the ring on my finger and it just flipped right off."
The next several seconds happened in slow motion for the couple, who watched the ring swirl downward to the lake bottom.
"We saw it go down two or three feet and then disappear," Chad recalled.
They were about 250 to 300 feet from shore in 13 feet of water.
"There was nothing we could do," said the maiden in despair. "We just sat there stunned."
Knowing that finding the ring was next to impossible, they made another trip to the jewelry store where Lois picked out a ring similar in shape to the one she'd lost.
"It would take too long to order one exactly like it, so I just picked out one that was similar," she said sadly.
The couple was married and later had two sons.
"Life went on, but we didn't ever forget what happened," Lois said. "We retold that story a million times over the years. We both remember every detail as if it just happened yesterday."
The Croonquists weren't the only ones haunted by what had happened. Korkowski, who had been with them that fateful day, also thought occasionally about the mystery of the lost ring.
"I knew it was out there, but I thought there was zero chance of finding it," he said. Korkowski, who happens to own some diving equipment, went out shortly after the ring was lost to try to find it, but with no luck.
Just this spring, he talked with Jeff Bosek, owner of the Divers Clubhouse in Alexandria, asking if it was possible to find the ring.
"I asked him if he could get me within 50 feet of where the ring was lost," Bosek recalled. "If he couldn't, I wasn't going to go look for it."
While Korkowski wasn't sure if he could get the diver within 50 feet, he did have some bearing as to where the ring was lost. When the ring fell into the water, he made mental notes of the boat's position.
"I tried to triangulate where we were at, but I didn't really know how far out we were," he recalled. "Right away I thought I needed to throw something out that would sink and mark the spot, but I didn't really have anything."
Korkowski ended up throwing out the only thing he could find - a cell phone cradle.
He informed Bosek the ring was lost just past a point where the water depth drops off out from his dock.
In June, Bosek went to Lake Chippewa to check out the feasibility of finding the ring.
"I was taking a marker out to mark the area, and I swam out and out and out and could still see the bottom," Bosek said. "I thought, 'I'm never going to find this.' "
Just then he realized he was at the point where the water dropped off. He set his marker and swam back to shore, where Korkowski was waiting.
"He told me he thought it was about 20 feet over," Bosek said. "I went back out, moved my marker, and figured I'd dive until I used two tanks [of oxygen] and then quit.
"I was sure I wasn't going to find it that day, and figured I'd come back in the winter and go through the ice."
Bosek said he has more time to do search dives in the winter, as the summer months keep him busy working construction and operating the Divers Clubhouse.
Without much hope, Bosek maneuvered over the site. Here's where the suspense comes in. His first time circling around he found an aluminum can, which he dug up. This disturbed the lake bottom and sacrificed the water clarity, limiting Bosek's visibility.
He went around a second time, and on his third trip around he found another can.
"After that, my detector sensed something out further," Bosek said. "I was trying to keep a one to two foot overlap and didn't want to lose my course."
Not wanting to let go of his guide rope, he stretched out toward the object. His detector buzzed again. Bosek dug down about four inches into the lake bottom and pulled out...the ring.
"I looked at my watch and thought, 'Hmm, 17 minutes. That's not bad!' "
Not bad at all, considering the experienced diver and one of this story's heroes really didn't think he had a chance of finding it.
"A lot of times when people lose things in the water their bearings are off or they drift," he explained. "Unless they've got some definite landmarks, it can be tough."
In this case, he credits Korkowski, our story's second hero, for checking his depth finder and sinking the cans.
"He had some pretty good sense," Bosek said. "For him to think that fast was pretty amazing."
Korkowski spent a week trying to reach the Croonquists, who were on vacation in the Black Hills. When he finally reached Chad and told him the news, Chad was in disbelief.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought, 'There is no way they could have found that ring.' "
Instead of telling his wife the good news, he decided to add yet another element of romance to the story.
He kept the ring hidden until his wife's birthday the following month. During a visit to Walker, he told her they should stop at the park.
"I didn't want to go to the park, I wanted to go to the waterfront," Lois recalled. "You don't go to Walker and not visit the waterfront. That's what it's all about!"
Chad insisted on going to the park, because, as he put it, "There was no way I was giving her the ring anywhere near the water!"
So, at the park, he presented to his wife the same ring he had given her exactly 13 years ago on the day he proposed.
Today, Lois wears the ring -which is in perfect condition despite lying at the bottom of a lake for 12 years - next to the other ring they purchased just before their wedding. Surprisingly, the rings fit together perfectly.
And of course, the couple plans to live happily ever after.