Age-old tradition kept alive in daily bell toll

Oct. 22, 2014

By Vesna Brajkovic

Sleeping in after hitting snooze three times leaves only 15 minutes to get dressed, brush your teeth and get out the door. As you run past Hyland Hall and reach the University Center, no time to check your phone, you hear a bell chime. Noon. You’re officially late to class.

Every hour the Carillon bell system on campus – now located atop Hyland Hall – sounds.

At noon and 6 p.m. the bells chimes three to five minutes songs at a time.

The bell chiming tradition has been a part of the university since Old Main, which burned down in a fire in the ’70s, was still standing. The bell system was relocated to the lower level of the University Center before moving to Hyland Hall.

“It’s a part of helping to reestablish history and tradition on our campus,” James R. Connor University Center Assistant Director Kim Adams said.

A UW-Whitewater alumus, Leo Schleck, class of 1911, was the original bell ringer at the Whitewater Normal School. The original bell has since been restored and installed in front of the Alumni Center.

In the 2006 UC rennovation, key communication lines between the bell system and its speakers were cut, silencing the bells.

One student, freshmen Kayla Kinney, who is not so keen on the hourly bell tolling, might have wished it stayed that way.

But on Nov. 2, 2009, a new set of new carillon bells were rededicated on the second floor of the UC. They rang the bells at 11:15 a.m., to commemorate the time when the original bells rang for the first time.

The carillon bell speakers and programming unit are currently located on the roof and top level of Hyland Hall.

The old carillon-programming unit took up a lot more physical space than the current one, that is about as big as a two-drawer filing cabinet, according to Adams.

The new electronic bell system, although smaller, holds 420 different songs, 12 bells and eight clock chimes.

The University Center is in charge of programming the bells.

Popular songs include a version of the “Star Wars Theme Song,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Piano Man” and “Sound of Music.”

Music professor, composer and arranger, George Ferencz rewrote the “Whitewater Alma Mater” specifically for this system to be recognizable when played, Adams said. Ferencz also rearranged the “Warhawk Fight Song.” These songs are played during the commencement months of May and December and football games.

Holiday songs are also played in the winter months.

A display case on the second floor of the UC, at the top of the stairs, exhibits the history and relics of the original carillon bell system.

The showcase also holds a plaque dedicated to Schleck.

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