In the 1940s, Private David Kershaw received two rings as a token of appreciation from a Polish jeweler who had just been released from a concentration camp.
“I gave him two silver dollars and he made a ring from each,” Kershaw tells JCK. The jewelry was designed as “pre-engagement rings,” inscribed with David’s name on one, and his girlfriend Jeanne’s name on the other.
Kershaw met Jeanne Walker in New Jersey during the summer of 1943. A year later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II and served until 1946. “For a veteran, trying to get back into civilian life was difficult,” Kershaw says. “We came home and weren’t sure what the future would be.”
After his discharge, Kershaw reunited with Walker; however, the two soon split amicably. “We went our separate ways,” Kershaw says. “She went to nursing school. I went to engineering school.”
Yet Kershaw kept the rings in a safety deposit box. “I never showed them to anyone,” he says.
Kershaw and Walker went on to live separate lives and didn’t keep in touch. Kershaw earned his engineering degree in 1950, the same year he married Clara Wahl, his wife of 61 years. The two had a long, happy marriage and raised two sons. Jeanne became a registered nurse. She married twice and raised two sons (one of whom died).
When Wahl was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, Kershaw didn’t want her to be forced into a nursing home. “I learned though mutual friends that Jeanne was specializing in home care,” Kershaw says. After not speaking for more than 60 years, he called up his old girlfriend and asked for her assistance.
For three years, until Wahl’s death in 2011, Walker cared for her. The two women even became close friends.
About a month before Wahl’s death, Kershaw revealed the rings he had kept a secret since the 1940s. “When I showed Jeanne the rings, she was shocked and started to cry,” Kershaw says.
Walker, who had lost her husband a few years earlier, provided solace after Wahl’s death. She and Kershaw went to movies and dinners—and, eventually, they each began wearing the rings.
Kershaw proposed to Walker on a Caribbean cruise three weeks ago. The two plan to move in together soon. “We will set a wedding date within a month or two. She’s 85 and I’m 86,” he says with a laugh. “We don’t have that much time.”