The call came Thursday morning from the other side of the world.
Isao Imai with Tokyo Broadcasting Systems Inc. wanted to interview Mary Marzec by phone for the TBS Asazuba morning show.
"Oh my goodness," exclaimed Mrs. Marzec, 88, in perfect English that still carries a Polish accent. "We're going to be in Japan!"
Mrs. Marzec got all the happy ending she needed when a treasure-hunting enthusiast found her lost wedding ring a few months ago at a bus stop on Embassy Boulevard near Port Richey.
But the Times' story of her recovered ring — and the 68 years of a lifetime commitment it symbolized — lifted spirits in ways she never expected and touched more lives than she could count.
After the story was published on June 15, neighbors gave extra copies of the newspaper to Ed and Mary Marzec to send to relatives, and friends from church called to offer congratulations. Unbeknownst to the elderly couple, however, their old-fashioned love story had gone viral on the Internet.
Within a day, more than 500,000 people read the story online, an astonishing number considering the Times' second-most popular story of the day got several thousand hits. The story spread via e-mail and blogs and drew readers from all over the world when it appeared on the Yahoo home page. Nearly 2,900 people — from places as far away as Alaska, the Philippines and South Africa — left comments at the bottom of the article.
Many praised George Kollmer, the 75-year-old retiree with the metal detector who found the ring and returned it to Mrs. Marzec. And many echoed Mrs. Marzec's sentiments that "If you promise yourself to someone, that's for life."
The call from Japanese television notwithstanding, I suspected the Marzecs had no idea how many people had connected with their story. So I printed out all of the readers' comments and revisited the couple.
Mrs. Marzec's jaw dropped when I presented her with 136 pages of kind wishes from total strangers.
"I treasure this," she said, flipping through the inch-thick stack. "I can't believe it."
The story had been a "pick-me-up" for Mrs. Marzec, too. Her husband is 92, mostly deaf and legally blind and who has been struggling with health problems.
"I was so down with my husband's sickness," she said. "I got such a good lift" from the story.
Ed and Mary Marzec were both born in Detroit and raised in Poland, but they didn't meet until after they'd both returned to the United States just before World War II. They had so much in common, their whirlwind romance culminated in marriage four months later.
"When I met Ed, we both loved to dance, we both loved to sing, and we were the same nationality," she said. "When we had our boys, we both loved the children."
Money was so tight when they got married that Ed had to borrow from his brother to pay for the musician at the reception. The ring he bought for Mary was a plain gold band.
Two sons and 12 years later, the couple's finances had improved, and Mary picked out a more elaborate ring with 15 small diamonds. That was the ring that sailed off her finger a few months ago as she brushed the overgrown grass away from her legs at the Embassy Boulevard bus stop.
A Pasco sheriff's deputy who saw her tearfully searching for the ring called Kollmer, who found it in a matter of minutes with the trusty metal detector he has owned for 22 years.
Some readers wished that Kollmer would have refused the $50 reward that Mrs. Marzec pressed into his hand. It's not a Hollywood ending, but the reality is this: She insisted, and with his own health problems and tightening finances, he needed the money.
"I'm just trying to keep my head above water," said Kollmer, a retired auto mechanic who barely makes ends meet on his Social Security checks.
Mrs. Marzec is using her original wedding band, which is more snug, to wedge the larger ring to keep it in place. She plans to get the larger one resized so she won't lose it again.
And she has plenty of reading to do. She is determined to make it through that stack of readers' comments.