UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State’s University Park campus today (April 23) rang with a sound that hadn’t been heard in more than 80 years: the pealing of the Old Main bell. Newly restored and set up for public display with a gift from the class of 2009, the bell was dedicated in a ceremony within sight of the Old Main bell tower, its original home.
Students of the class of 2009 voted their senior year to have the 139-year-old, 1,200-pound bell removed, restored and put on permanent display on the mall between Old Main and Willard Building.
“On behalf of my entire class, I’m very proud and excited to present the results of our efforts to President Spanier and the entire Penn State community,” said Avery Peechatka, communications chair for the 2009 Senior Class Gift committee. “We hope the bell will establish itself as a celebrated landmark and inspire future classes to give back to the University through their philanthropy.”
At the ceremony, Penn State President Graham B. Spanier also recognized two other recently completed class gifts: the Student Life Promenade, a gift of the class of 2005, and the Atherton and Curtin Gateway, a gift of the class of 2008.
Spanier extended his thanks on behalf of the University to its alumni and volunteers who have contributed to class gifts over the years, noting that “each of these thoughtful gifts honors the legacy of Penn State and is a sign of loyalty and pride.”
Martha Jordan, member of the executive committee for the University-wide fundraising effort, For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, called the bell a gift “that will touch the heart of every Penn Stater.”
The Boston foundry of William Blake and Co. cast the bronze bell in 1871. Exactly when it was installed in the tower of the original Old Main is unclear, but records do indicate it was in place by 1892. It was in regular use through the end of classes in June 1929, marking the passage of the hours, calling students to class, chapel and other activities.
The bell was removed later that year when the first Old Main was razed to make way for a new Old Main, and was placed in the new structure in 1930. But its role as a regulator of campus life was soon taken over by the chimes, a gift of the class of 1937. After that, the bell hung unused and was seen only by visitors during infrequent tours of the tower.
Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant worked with Elderhorst Bells of Palm, Montgomery County, to undertake the restoration process.
Spanier also called attention to the bell’s clapper, which had “a story of its own.”
The clapper disappeared from the Old Main bell decades ago and was apparently forgotten. In the 1950s, Penn State alumnus and local businessman H.O. Smith found a clapper in the attic of a State College boarding house about to be torn down by his construction company. He took it home and saved it in his garage, and when he passed away, the clapper went to his son, Charles “Skip” Smith, also a Penn State alumnus. Last year, when Skip saw a newspaper article about the restoration and display of the bell, he remembered the clapper and promptly returned it to Penn State.
“Bell experts determined that the size and make of the clapper indicate that it was an original clapper for the Old Main bell,” said Spanier. “Clapper and bell are now reunited thanks to Skip and his father.”
The University will store the clapper separately and re-install it when the bell is to be rung for special occasions, he added.
The 2009 senior class gift committee includes Elizabeth Kernion, overall chair; Trina Finney, gift development chair; Avery Peechatka, communications chair; Kimmie Aubrey, student relations chair; Jenny Georges, student relations chair; and Jill Caffrey, marketing chair.
Laura Stocker Waldhier, Penn State University