Bell comes from Ohio to EMU, continuing long life of ‘gathering, sending, remembering’

In 2012, Fred E. and Carolyn Augsburger donated the bell that now resides in front of Lehman Auditorium. The story of that bell, which first rang at West Camelback School near Elida, Ohio, and how it came to the Harrisonburg campus, is shared below by Fred Augsburger, and then by his friend, Bruce Stambaugh.

The Journey of the Bell, by Fred E. Augsburger

The community bell was donated by the Fred and Carolyn Augsburger family.

In the early 1900s, several schools were built in rural western Ohio with bells installed. My mother, Stella Shenk Augsburger, attended one at Pequod. Four of her children, Fred, Don, Myron, and Ann, attended West Camelback from which this bell rang until the advent of consolidated schools in Elida.

When the school closed, a local farmer, Aaron Good, bought it for a barn. He told me that if I took the belfry and the bell down, I could have it. At age 17, I took Dad’s hay rope on a very steep roof and let bell and belfry down. Dad used the belfry to shade geese out by our pond.

The bell stayed in Dad’s barn until I got back from CPS, was married, and served five years in Wisconsin. We built two churches in Youngstown. In the second church building we installed a belfry which was built with materials from the Sauder Company in Archbold, Ohio. I rang it every Sunday morning. On Thursday afternoons, we rang the bell after school and approximately 100 children would come for Bible clubs that Carolyn taught. Several of those young people have become preachers. One of them developed a church which grew to more than 1,000.

After 30 years of service in Youngstown, we retired to Coschtocton County, Ohio. When I learned the church in Youngstown was no longer using the bell, my brother Dan and I retrieved it. I used the bell to call my Amish neighbors when I needed help or when they had phone calls.

When I moved to the Walnut Hills retirement community, we didn’t know what to do with the bell until we heard that EMU was looking for a bell with a story. Carolyn and I, all five of our children, and all of their spouses attended EMU. I am pleased to note that my grandson, Phil Yoder, is now with the cross cultural group in South Africa that heard the bell ring as they left.

For whom the bell tolls, by Bruce Stambaugh

The community bell at the dedication ceremony

 Bells are meant for calling. My friend Fred, now 87, had learned that fact early on. At age 17, he climbed to the belfry of his former one-room elementary school to save the old school bell. A farmer had purchased the abandoned building to use it as a storage barn. Fred could have the bell simply for the effort of taking it down. The ambitious young man jumped at the challenge. Years of answering the bell’s alluring peal had seemingly made the two inseparable. Fred climbed to the rooftop, tied his father’s haymow rope around the adjacent chimney, and lowered the weighty metal bell and its heavy housing to the ground. Not sure what he would do with his prize, Fred stored the bell in his father’s granary. It remained there for several years.

After he married, Fred heard a calling of a different sort. He became a preacher and eventually began a ministry in the inner city of a tough, Ohio blue-collar town. Fred wondered how the church meetings could gain attention. He remembered the bell and retrieved it from his father’s barn. Perched above the church, the bell had a new function. Its clarion call echoed down hard city streets instead of bucolic cornrows.

For the two decades Fred served as the pastor there, the trusty clangor faithfully served its sure purpose. Fred filled other pastorates, but he never forgot about the sturdy school bell. As his family grew, attended college, became adults and returned home for visits, they often reminisced about the bell. After Fred retired to his mini-farm in rural Ohio, they wondered together if it was still being rung. Not one to be shy, Fred contacted the church leaders. They told him that the bell was still there but no longer used. Always determined, Fred asked if he could have the bell, and the good church people were glad to oblige. Fred hauled the heavy, age-pitted bell back to his country home. Now that he had reclaimed his old friend, Fred pondered what he was going to do with it. He figured it surely must still have some practical purpose.

The plaque of EMU’s ‘Community Bell.’

Then it came to him. Fred installed the bell on his back porch and used it in what may have been the most pragmatic employment of its long career. Fred rang the bell when his Amish neighbor had a phone call. Since the neighbor didn’t have a telephone, people used Fred’s number. It’s been awhile since the bell has been heard though. After Fred moved to a retirement home, he and his family questioned what would become of the bell.

Word came that his favorite college needed a bell to replace one that had cracked. It was the same school where he, his children and most of his grandchildren had attended. Plus, one of his brothers had served as the college president and another had taught at its seminary. Fred didn’t hesitate. He was more than happy to donate the bell to the school. Soon the old gray bell with its weathered black housing will assume a place of distinction in Virginia. The beloved bell will be prominently situated in the heart of the lovely college campus. The old hunk of metal has had a storied history. It seems only appropriate that this institution of higher learning will use the bell as a symbol of calling.

Ringing school bells and church bells call people to gather and together. Once in place, Fred’s old bell will continue to do so without ever making a sound.

Posted on March 1, 2017