Church: Neillsville - UCC Swiss Bells Get Shined (2012)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Hediger, Spangler, Mann, Owens, Opelt, Lowry, Uptergrove, Montgomery

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 6/13/2012

UCC Swiss Bells to Get New Shine (2012)

Jeff Mann and Boyd Owens of the Verdin Company in Cincinnati, OH, begin the process of taking down the United Church of Christ’s Swiss bells last week. (Brett Sigurdson/Clark County Press)

By Brett Sigurdson

Just outside the sanctuary of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in Neillsville, there is a small chart on the announcement board. On this chart are 15 painted bells affixed with Velcro, each of which has been moved from a pyramid-shaped bell tower to an area that represents a truck. Each bell symbolizes a total amount of $4,200, which means the church raised $63,000, which means the UCC church is getting the Swiss bells that hang in a large A-frame tower outside its entrance refurbished.

It’s a process that was initiated three years ago, a process that took a major step forward last week when workers from the Verdin Company began the process of taking the bells down for transport to its factory in Cincinnati, OH.

Jeff Mann loosens on of the 15 bell clappers as he and another Verdin employee begin the work of taking the UCC’s Swiss bells down for refurbishment in Ohio. (Brett Sigurdson/Clark County Press)

For Deon Spangler, chairperson (sorry a portion was missing). … bolts that hold the clappers, or strikers, which make a percussive sound when they hit the bell. When the bells were ready to come down, Mann and Owens removed the four bolts that held each bell in place and helped lower them onto wood pallets, which were then placed on a truck.

Removing the UCC Swiss bells was difficult, Mann said, though he has come to expect that in his job, which he notes only 25 – 30 people do in the country.

“It’s always different,” he said. “This is a little more challenging because it was done by some local people, so it’s not very standard. Every tower’s different, every job is different.”

Originally called the Hediger-Swiss carillon bells, the 15 Swiss bells, which the church now calls them, were donated by Herman Hediger, Sr., and his wife Hannah in 1967. According to Spangler, the bell system is “very unique.” “There’s not another installation like this anywhere in the United States,” she said.

The bells, which range in weight from 75 pounds to 600 pounds, were cast to the Hediger’s specifications at a 700-year-old bell foundry in Aarau, Switzerland. According to Hanna Opelt, Hediger’s daughter and a member of the church, her father ordered the bells while on vacation with his family in Reinach, Switzerland, his hometown. Hediger also arranged to have the bells shipped by boat to Canada, where he and a brother-in-law picked them up with a truck to bring to Neillsville.

Hediger was born in Switzerland and came to America at 17. The one-time owner of Hediger Dairy in Christie, he built a Swiss-chalet style house on Grand Avenue in Neillsville and later the bell tower at Chapel Hill Cemetery in the Town of Weston. Hediger would ring the bell there, cast at the same factory in Aarau, every Sunday, in part for the memory of his granddaughter who was killed in an accident.

But the bells also meant something else to Hediger. According to Opelt, they reminded her father of Switzerland. “I think he missed his home country, and he wanted some of those things,” she said. “He missed the atmosphere of the bells ringing in the morning. I think he wanted to have that in his memory.”

It was the memory of his home country that was also led Hediger and his wife to donate the Swiss bells to the UCC, said Opelt. “Our family were members,” she said. “I think he just wanted to do something for the church and in remembrance of his home country.”

The bells, however, have needed some work for some time.

“We used to play them every Sunday morning before church started but you just couldn’t reliably play them, said Spangler. “They worked okay for quite a few years, but they haven’t worked well for many, many years.”

She said the wiring that connects the bells to the keyboard has rotted. The keys on the bell keyboard were also difficult to play, said Spangler, who often plays the piano at the church. Given that some of the bells didn’t ring or were hard to hear, it became frustrating to play.

“It’s so discouraging when you can only get some of the notes to work,” she said. “Out of the 15 bells we have, maybe eight or nine worked well, real well. The rest were iffy.”

What’s more, the bell clappers, which were custom made at B&F Machine Shop in Neillsville in 1967, were a haven for birds, which would build nests and perch in the bells.

All of this will change now that the bells are being refurbished, a process Spangler estimates will take three months. Employees at Verdin will measure the inside of the bells and custom make a striker mechanism for each. The bells will also be cleaned – but mot much, said Spangler, as that could affect the tone of the bell.

The church will also get a new wiring system for the bells and a new keyboard, which can be programmed by Verdin to play songs. It will also be touch-sensitive, which means the bells will mimic the strength of the player’s touch.

This will allow the bells to be played more, said Spangler.

Over the course of three years, the UCC raised $70,000 for the project through fundraisers, chili feeds, quilt raffles and individual donations. The church may plan an event to correspond with the return of the bells, but nothing has been planned yet, Spangler said.

As Spangler discussed the chart she made on the day the bells came down, she noted how excited church members were for the project. After all, their excitement was for good reason. “They’re part of our history, part of our heritage,” she said.

Workers from the Verdin Company hang the last of 15 Swiss bells on the A-frame tower Sept. 19 at the Neillsville United Church of Christ. The bells were taken down the week of June 4 and transported to the Verdin factory in Cincinnati, OH, for a refurbishing project that cost approximately $63,000. (Photos by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

Four Generations Pose With UCC Swiss Bell (Representing Herman Hediger, Sr. - 2012)

Four generations of the Hediger family had the opportunity to pose with one of the 15 Swiss carillon bells originally donated to the Neillsville United Church of Christ by the family’s first generation, Herman Hediger Sr., and his wife Hannah in 1967. The bells were recently refurbished and re-hung. Pictured are Brittney Lowry, great-granddaughter; Chase Uptergrove, great-great-grandson; Herman Hediger Jr., son; and Punk Montgomery, granddaughter. (Contributed photo)




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