A good deed is an action one takes for the betterment of another, a definition Grundy County native Joseph Cook knows all too well. He located a lost ring valued at $40,000 and returned it.
“I learned to do the right thing by watching how my mom and dad treated others. Without my loving family, I would not be the person I am today,” said Cook.
A 2004 graduate of Grundy County High School, Cook currently lives in Florida and is an avid detectorist. The hobby, going on 18 years, started in the front yard of his parent’s Tracy City home.
“My parents got me a metal detector,” said Cook. “We used to mess around with it in the yard. The hobby grew from there. That’s where this all started. There are some really good spots in Grundy. I moved to Florida to metal detect on the beaches. That was pretty much the main reason. My mom and dad didn’t want me to move. I made the decision on a whim. I was tired of the cold weather. I was done with it. My parents are happy with it now.”
Among the most unique items uncovered on the beaches of the Sunshine State was an eight-foot tall ship anchor from the 1500s, says Cook.
“I like to go detecting after hurricanes, because it helps wash old Spanish stuff onto the beach. Along with that ship anchor, I’ve found lots of Spanish silver. I went out after Hurricane Ian – that was the beginning of October – and got a signal. The metal detector will usually try to tell you what’s under the ground. It will give you a number. By the number, I thought it would be a nickel. I dug it up. It was a four-carat diamond ring with a platinum band.”
The expression ‘finders’ keepers, losers weepers’ is not a legal principle and not one in which Cook subscribes.
“No, it feels much better returning people’s lost items than keeping them. I’ve returned 50-something rings this year and probably 50 to 60 iPhones, Apple watches, etc. Anything you can think of, I’ve probably returned it. All the items found on the beaches of Florida. Returning the items makes me feel good.”
Cook says he walks approximately 10 miles a day detecting. Locating owners of the various items can be just as time consuming.
“Some items are harder to return than others. I usually post the items to Craig’s List. I do TikTok and YouTube videos about metal detecting under the name Joe Digger. Those videos help sometimes. With this big ring, it had a jeweler’s name on it [Underwood Jewelers]. They distribute to other jewelers. I sent emails to 200 or 300 different jewelers within a 100 mile area. I thought it would be a long shot, but hoped it worked. I posted it online, as well. Days went by. A couple weeks went by. Didn’t hear anything.”
Then, one day, the peace and quiet of a metal-detecting stroll was interrupted by repeated cell phone calls and frantic text messages.
“I was on the beach and started getting calls from a random number. I don’t answer them, because it’s usually spam calls. An hour later, I started getting these text messages coming through. It was boom, boom, boom, boom. Pictures of the ring. ‘My wife lost her engagement ring,’ ‘A jeweler contacted us,’ ‘We saw the video on your TikTok,’ ‘We’re pretty sure it’s our ring.’ One of the jewelers that I had contacted looked back through his records to see if anyone reported a lost ring. They had. He let them know the ring had been found.”
Selflessness isn’t fool hearty. To ensure the couple’s words had the ring of truth, an independent jeweler was used to determine if the Gemological Institute of America number inscribed on the stone matched the couple’s receipt of purchase.
“The numbers matched. It was definitely their ring. The couple were out of Jacksonville and vacationing in St. Augustine when the ring was lost,” said Cook.
For beginners, there are three golden rules of metal detecting. 1) Respect private property and never metal detect an area without permission. 2) Pack out what you pack in, and properly dispose of any trash you find. 3) Leave all gates, structures, and personal property as they were before.
Cook, and other detectorists like him, seek to add a fourth rule, “We try to encourage other detectors to return items, rather than keeping them.”
The son of Jeff and Sabine, Cook has two brothers: Stephen and Johnathan.
“I love Florida and I love the beaches, but I miss Grundy so much,” said Cook. “It’s a close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody. If you need something, someone will help you out. Not all communities are like that. I’ve been all over the United States, and I’ve never found a place like Grundy County. It’s one of the most beautiful places, in my opinion, anywhere that I have been.”
Stephen contacted the Grundy County Herald regarding his brother’s good deeds.
“I’m proud of Joseph,” Stephen said. “Not everyone would do what he did, but he didn’t think twice about it. That’s just how he is. He’s a wonderful person.”