The Bell Tolls


Be honest. Did you even know it’s there, hanging high within the crosses on the front lawn? Be sure to catch a glance when you leave church today. The bell has a history!
For centuries, church bells have been used to call people to worship, to commemorate important events, to announce funerals, and served as a community’s “time piece”, often marking the hour, and the quarter hours as well. But, for most modern day Christians, the ringing of bells from a church tower is thought to be more of a “joyful noise” rather than serving a need in the community.
Looking back at our church history, records show that on January 21, 1926, the members of the Riverton Christian Church (while still located on Jefferson St) purchased the bell from the Stuckstede & Bro Bell Foundry (St. Louis) for the price of $379.20 (this did not include the freight charge of $7.06). Why was it so important to the members to purchase a bell, especially knowing how hard they had to work to make the payments and keep the church going? Apart from the obvious “joyful noise” it would provide, we’ll most likely never know the reason this little congregation felt the need to spend that kind of money to buy a bell. But we do know this: From the beginning, the bell meant a lot to the members of the church!
Apparently, the arrival of the bell was a big event! The day the bell was to arrive, people headed to the train station (near the present day softball fields) to watch as it pulled in on the freight car. Imagine the excitement of the families as they watched while it was loaded onto a wagon and lead by horses through the streets to its new home in the church bell tower! Orlee Crane, a longtime member from the past, was a child during this time. She had recalled her family did without new winter coats one year in order for them to donate toward the cost o the bell. The congregation must have known that investing in this bell would serve as a forever reminder to all in the community to “come to the Lord” whenever they would hear its “joyful Noise” ring out across the village!
And “ring out” it did! Even when our present-day church was built back in 1967, very few things made the move from the old church to the new, but the bell was indeed among the items. Don ‘Sarge’ Jones recalled the day they were moving the bell from the tower to its new home. Members Roy Roberts, Richard Hurt, and Sarge were working up in the tower trying to remove the clapper. Somehow the clapper, which Sarge guessed to weigh around 100 pounds, fell and hit him on the forearm. This resulted in a tri to the ER, where the doctor splinted the break, rather than putting it in a cast. In hindsight, Sarge said with a smile, “It never did heal quite right even after all these years!” In Spite of the trip to the Emergency Room, the men managed to carry the bell down by hand (all 1250 pounds of it! And transport it to its home here on Seventh Street.
At first, the bell was stored toward the back of the church property before being moved onto a concrete slab near the church entrance. Long time past members Jeannie and Harley Hanson, wanted to have a bell tower constructed as a way to honor Jeannie’s parents George and Pauline Orme. Member Ray Barclay envisioned three crosses, constructed a small plastic prototype complete with a PVC bell, and showed it to the Hanson’s to see if it fit their vision of a bell tower. Once Ray received their approval on the idea, he took the design to member Mike Beiermann. Being an architect, Mike then created the plans to make the bell tower structurally sound. Then, on a chilly Saturday morning in the fall of 1989, many gathered at the church to help erect the tower and bell. Gary Brenizer, recalled the events of the day: Lascody Trucking delivered the crosses, which were in several sections. It snowed lightly that day, but because it did, they were able to finish the project! How was it that snow actually helped? Gary had spoken with crane operator/friend Bob Dagner earlier about the job, but wasn’t available to help due to a previous job lined up for that day. So they found another crane operator (?Scott) who could work that day. But for some reason, crane operator Scott had to leave early. However, due to the snow, Bob Dagner’s original job had been canceled, so he stopped by the church just to see if by chance they needed help! So they were back in business! Harley Hanson and Dick Sharp were there for the main welding needs, (yet anyone who was on hand that day was able to take a quick turn with the welding torch in order to preserve the memory of the day, according to Ray Barclay). Dick Sharp and Paul Lewis (age 19 at the time) were able to help set the bell on the rung of the cross, which was no easy feat! The sections were welded as they went up and the holes drilled for the bell brackets had to be placed just at the right spot. But , thanks to the volunteer efforts of many that autumn day, whether working out in cold or preparing meals for the workers, the bell and it’s three crosses had been secured two and a half feet into the ground on three pillars sitting on 11 yards of concrete!
Given that it was turning cold, it was decided to wait to paint the crosses. When spring 1989 arrived, the ‘team’ had to use a grinder to remove rust that had formed over the winter. From there, they first used an anti-corrosive paint, and then followed up with the regular paint. Members Paul Lewis and Scot Shriver had the honor of painting the crosses. Gary added a future “housekeeping” note that whenever someone decides to paint the crosses again, not to grind it down like they did because it will remove the anticorrosive layer of paint – just use a simple wire brush where needed. He also added the paint that is on the bell tower today (Oct 2016) is the same original coat!
The bell was rung to welcome people to service for many more years. Over time, there was the desire by Jeannie and Harley Hanson as well as other members of the congregation to have an electronic bell system in place which would share music with the community at set times during the day. Thanks to the memorials donated for the project, the bells were installed and currently ring out three times daily for the community to enjoy!
Clearly, the bell has watched many people come into God’s house to worship over the years. It would have pealed and tolled to commemorate births, deaths, war, victory, sorrow, and joy. It now sits high among the crosses as a reminder of all who came before us, dedicating their lives to follow Jesus, and ensure others will always have a church “home” in which to worship! In closing, it does make one wonder though why, with such a rich history, do we no longer ring the bell?? Ray Barclay had an answer as to why the bell is now silent. It was “Because the rope broke!” Apparently, not everything has to have an exciting story behind it!