Glenbard West alumni secure funding for victory bell restoration

Updated 2/9/2018 3:39 PM
  • An effort led by 1966 alumni has raised enough money to restore a 350-pound victory bell at Glenbard West High School.

    An effort led by 1966 alumni has raised enough money to restore a 350-pound victory bell at Glenbard West High School. Courtesy of Peter Konkle

Peter Konkle usually makes sure to visit a campus landmark when he returns to Glenbard West High School and relives fond memories from the Class of 1966.

It's a shaded spot atop a hill that overlooks Duchon Field and Lake Ellyn. But Konkle will find himself there for more than the views.

He will take pride in the school's victory bell that peals upon the hill every time the football team wins at home.

"It has become an integral part of the culture of Glenbard West, particularly because we have such a successful football team," Konkle says.

The bell also has come to represent the mark he and his classmates left on the school as teenagers. Konkle sat on the committee that selected the bell as the class gift from graduating seniors in 1966.

More than 50 years later, the retired Florida man and other alumni have led an effort that has raised enough money to restore the 350-pound bell and rebuild its rusted stand.

Konkle and his classmates say they are working to preserve their legacy at Glenbard West and a campus tradition embraced by the Hitters. Football players still celebrate a victory by running up the hill to ring the bell.

"Many of us have moved away from Glen Ellyn physically, although we are still tied to Glen Ellyn emotionally," Konkle said of his class. "And the idea of having this icon at the school that's been around for 52 years and for us to restore it and to think it's going to be there for another 100 years, it's profound. It's a moving experience that we contributed something."

The genesis of the effort goes back to their 50th class reunion two years ago. Tom Traber, another 1966 alum and a mechanical engineer, noticed the bell had fallen into a state of disrepair.

He reached out to Verdin Bells & Clocks in Cincinnati, Ohio, about refurbishing the 52-year-old instrument that had suffered exterior damage over the years and was missing a clapper.

Traber came up with a budget, and Konkle began fundraising in December with the help of Facebook and an email list from their well-attended 2016 class reunion.

By mid-January, the campaign had raised $10,801 from 93 individual donors, most of whom are 1966 graduates. The class of 1989 also made a gift of $1,600.

The fundraising started slowly around Christmas, Konkle said, "but the word got spread around."

Some of the checks he received from alumni and others came with notes about their nostalgia for the bell. One man who lives by Lake Ellyn wrote that he would stop raking leaves to applaud at the sound of the bell after a fall game.

"Somebody said to me the bell is to Glenbard as the horse trough is to Glen Ellyn," Konkle said. "It's just a shared experience for the whole community."

Konkle said he's sent the checks to the Glenbard West Boosters Club to cover the cost of sending the instrument to the bell manufacturer in Ohio for repairs and returning it to the school.

The Class of 2018 also has offered to contribute to the bell's restoration, but Konkle said the additional money may not be needed. Another alum who lives in Glen Ellyn and works in metal fabrication is willing to construct the new base and arrange the on-site labor and heavy machinery needed to dismantle and reinstall the bell.

Linda Oberg, the school's assistant principal for operations, will oversee the repairs.

"We anticipate sending the bell for repairs in the spring and expect it would be returned in the fall," district spokeswoman Peg Mannion said in an email.

Konkle hopes to unveil the refurbished bell with a rededication ceremony during homecoming. Konkle and Traber already plan to attend.

"We're just very proud of the role that our class has played over the years," Konkle said. "The bell I think is emblematic of that."

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