WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug, 25, 2010) -- The concept of a class ring originated in 1835, as West Point became the first American university to honor its senior class with a treasured keepsake of gold. A decade ago, a new chapter to this West Point tradition was forged when molten gold emerged from a fiery furnace to inaugurate the Memorial Class Ring Donor Program.

In 1999, the ring donor concept was introduced in an article by retired Lt. Col. Ron Turner, Class of 1958, published in Assembly Magazine.

The idea was simple enough. Donations of class rings would be collected, melted and merged. A portion of the original gold would be infused with gold from preceding melts to become part of the rings for each 'Firstie' class.

Even before the article went to press, Tony Ferraiuolo, then Class Support Program director for the Association of Graduates, began generating interest to turn the concept into reality.

In 2002, gold from 32 rings was melted and merged with new gold to make the rings for the Bicentennial Class. Since that time, 185 rings have been donated to the Ring Melt. This perpetual link to the Long Gray Line spans generations, with donor rings ranging from the Class of 1901 to 1984.

Upon receiving their rings Aug. 20, the Class of 2011 will have grasped hands with battlefield commanders from World War I to Desert Storm, Silver Star and Purple Heart recipients, fathers and grandfathers.

The 10th annual 'Ring Melt' contributed 20 rings to the class ring memorial program, and the owners of those rings ranged from a member of the Class of 1908 to a 1984 graduate. During the ring melt, Class of 2011 Cadet Brandon Lawrence presented the ring of his grandfather, Class of 1958 graduate Col. Richard E. Bauchspies.

"It was an honor to be part of such an important and memorable event for my class and my family," Lawrence said. "I've aspired to wear the West Point class ring for a long time, and I am beyond honored to have a piece of my grandfather's ring in my own."

Barbara Bauchspies was one of the first ring donors to arrive to the Class of 2011 ring ceremony, wearing the smile of an adoring grandmother and proud Army wife. Though her husband's gold is now worn on the rings of nearly 1,000 Class of 2011 cadets, she still wears his tourmaline gemstone on her own ring.

"This is the biggest thrill being here," Bauchspies said. "He loved West Point and wanted this so much."

She said that Brandon celebrated the night before the ring ceremony. "What are you celebrating," she asked her grandson. "The last day without my ring," he told her.

The first day of wearing the ring, however, was incredible, Lawrence said.

"It feels good to wear it," Lawrence said. "Just knowing that my grandfather's ring is in my ring is a nice feeling; and hearing his name called out during the ceremony. It's awesome."

Additionally, the ring of Lt. Col. John W. Hynd, Class of 1960, was dropped into the crucible by his West Point roommate of four years, Donald Prosser. Hynd commissioned Field Artillery and soon after deployed to Vietnam. He would return to West Point to teach physics. Col. William T. Kirkpatrick donated the ring of his father, Col. Elmer E. Kirkpatrick, Jr. of the Class of 1929 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his own Class of 1961.

To learn more about the ring donor program or about those whose rings have been dontated, visit the AOG website at: www.westpointaog.org/netcommunity/page.aspx'pid=310.

(Editor's Note: Excerpts were taken from the Association of Graduates' Ring Donor website at www.westpointaog.org/netcommunity/.)