By CHRISTENA O’BRIEN
EAU CLAIRE (AP) — An old bell has a new home.
This summer, St. Mark Lutheran Church in Eau Claire had a steel bell tower erected on its property at the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and State Street.
The 1,600-pound brass bell, which the congregation has owned since 1971, hangs near the top of the 22.5-foot tower.
“It’s such a beautiful bell,” said Pat Culver, a longtime member of the congregation who, along with her husband Gary, worked on the project. “It deserves to be hanging — not sitting on the ground.”
The bell was cast in 1892 and used to belong to the former Olivet Evangelical United Brethren Church, which had stood at Babcock and Beach streets.
Two congregations — Olivet and Aldersgate Methodist — voted in 1966 to come together, and ground was broken for a new church — Chapel Heights United Methodist Church — on April 23, 1967, according to a 1968 article in the Daily Telegram.
Luther Hospital, now Mayo Clinic Health System, bought the former Olivet church building and two adjacent lots in 1967, according to an article from July of that year.
In a letter to the congregation from 1971, the St. Mark Church Council requests a congregational meeting to discuss acquiring the bell, which is sitting next to the church.
“Luther Hospital owns the bell,” the letter reads. “It is the one that was salvaged when Olivet Church was destroyed for the enlarging of the hospital parking lot.”
The letter goes on to state that others, including college fraternities, are interested in the bell, but “the hospital would rather see a church obtain it for the use it was originally intended.”
The St. Mark congregation agreed to buy the bell for $400, much less than the $3,200 price tag, the letter said, for a new bell of that size.
Since buying the bell, St. Mark has used it to signal the start of services, said Tim Petermann, a longtime member of the congregation and the church historian.
“But, because of its weight, it was mounted on the ground and rung manually by an usher,” said Petermann, one of the ushers tasked with the job. “It had a great sound.”
For St. Mark’s 35th anniversary, a committee started looking at erecting a bell tower, Culver said.
“We raised some money, and it sat there,” he said.
The bell tower was one of the projects undertaken by the congregation as part of its 50th anniversary last fall, Petermann said.
“The bell tower seemed like a good way to commemorate the anniversary,” said the Rev. Joel Naumann, a pastor at St. Mark.
In May, the bell was shipped off for restoration to Elderhorst Bells in Palm, Pennsylvania, which had also restored a bell from Cameron, said James Murillo, who headed the group that got the project done.
The bell is no longer a swinging bell, Petermann said. Instead, it is rung electronically from inside the church, the Leader-Telegram reported.
“At first, I was afraid it wouldn’t sound the same,” he said. “But I like the sound of it.”
The bell was supposed to ring in early August for the first time to mark the beginning of the 8 a.m. service, but it didn’t go off, said Naumann, chuckling.
The bell had been programmed to ring before both Sunday services and at noon Monday through Friday, said Murillo, acknowledging he had made some changes, which might explain why the bell didn’t make its debut ring.
That misstep aside, “I think everyone is so excited about the project,” said Culver, “It’s like ‘Wow, we finally got that bell up.'”
Petermann is one of them.
“I know there are a lot of people who were hoping this would have happened sooner,” he said. “I’m just extremely happy to see the bell up there (in) the tower, operational.”
Murillo recently moved to the eastern part of Wisconsin, but he likely won’t forget St. Mark Lutheran or the bell project.
“It’s a fabulous feeling to know I was part of completing the members’ dream,” he said.