Just in time for North Central College’s Sesquicentennial, the bells in the iconic Old Main tower are once again sounding chimes.
A team of campus workers recently installed a new computer-controlled system to make the bells operational for the first time in three years. The new system debuted in time to play the National Anthem on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, a date that also marked the beginning of the College’s 150th year.
“The controller system could no longer be repaired. The digital readout had disappeared,” says Donald Koletsos, North Central’s assistant to the director of business operation and risk management coordinator. “With the new system, the chimes can be programmed for special occasions, to play music on holidays, for example.”
The new system has been programmed to ring the bells with a Westminster chime at the top of each hour between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays and between noon and 6 p.m. on weekends, Koletsos says.
The recent three-year period of inactivity isn’t the first time the bells have been silenced during the College’s 150-year history. The story of the bells in Old Main dates back to 1870, when the College moved to Naperville from Plainfield. Originally, two large bells were put in place before construction of the North Tower was complete. The tower was literally built around the bells.
Over the years, the bells were rung to signal the start of weekly campus chapel services, for sports victories and for special occasions, says Kimberly Butler, college archivist. Sometime during the middle of the 20th century, one of the two original bells was removed from the tower. It was mounted on a small trailer for use as a victory bell.
“The victory bell was rung when Germany surrendered at the end of World War II in Europe,” Butler says. “The practice of ringing the victory bell after sports victories seems to have varied to include football or sometimes all varsity team wins. Ultimately, the freshmen had the responsibility to ring it as a sort of punishment meted out by upperclassmen.”
The College Chronicle, as the campus newspaper was called in those days, carried a front-page photo of the bell on May 7, 1945, under the headline, “Toll’s Biggest Victory.”
“The victory bell rang out on what has probably been its greatest victory in many years,” the Chronicle reported. “Many of the students, after hearing the news of the collapse of Germany, made their ways to the churches here in Naperville for a short period of thankful meditation.”
The second bell remained in the tower, but developed a large crack and was last rung regularly during the early 1950s to signal the start of chapel services in Pfeiffer Hall. One of the two original bells, cast in 1870 at the Buckeye Bell Foundry in Cincinnati, Ohio, is displayed today inside the east entrance to Old Main.
The tower’s current set of bells was installed and dedicated in 1989, when the chimes at North Central were heard again after a silence that lasted more than 30 years. Four bronze bells, cast at the famous Paccard-Fonderie de Cloches foundry in Annecyle-Vieux, France, were installed in May that year by alumnus Larry Gregory (1928-2009) and other volunteers who donated their time and labor.
It’s no wonder the project involved Gregory, a 1951 North Central graduate and tireless supporter of his alma mater. Among other projects, Gregory helped install lights for North Central’s football field and led the 1976 effort to renovate the College’s outdoor athletic facilities, a project the Chicago Tribune called the “$18,000 Miracle of Naperville.”
Following a devastating 1996 flood, Gregory also helped rebuild North Central’s athletic complex. Gregory Arena in Merner Field House is named for the past chairman of the College’s Board of Trustees. He served on the board from 1977 to 2000. He was honored with an Outstanding Alumni Award in 1977, presented with the College’s Gael D. Swing Award for Meritorious Service in 1993, named a Life Trustee in 2004 and voted into North Central’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.
The four-bell Westminster chime peal and a 49-bell carillon installed in 1989 were the gift of Lt. Colonel and Mrs. Earl Rosar of Austin, Texas. Rosar and his wife, the former Mary Ann Schneller, were 1931 and 1933 graduates of the College, respectively. The two met at North Central and wanted to revive the bells’ tradition at the College.
The bells vary in size and weigh from 500 to 1,500 pounds, so placing them in Old Main’s north tower was no easy task. On a Saturday morning, Gregory and his team of volunteers used a 95-foot crane to hoist the bells into place.
“The manufacturer of the new bells had included all the framework necessary,” Gregory said in 1989. “It was like putting together an Erector set within the bell tower.”
North Central College is planning a series of events and observances throughout 2011 and into 2012 to celebrate its Sesquicentennial, highlighted by a day of activities on Nov. 11, 2011—the 150th anniversary of the first day of classes. Visit the Sesquicentennial calendar for more information or visit northcentralcollege.edu/150 for other Sesquicentennial information, updates and features.