Glenbard West to unveil restored victory bell at homecoming

 
 
Updated 9/6/2018 6:12 AM
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  • Before the restoration, the bell rested in a rusty and peeling frame atop a crumbling concrete pedestal.

    Before the restoration, the bell rested in a rusty and peeling frame atop a crumbling concrete pedestal. Courtesy of Pete Konkle

The anticipation for homecoming weekend at Glenbard West has Pete Konkle feeling like a kid again.

Konkle will come back to campus for the glorious ritual of seeing the big game played against a backdrop that doesn't get any better for high school football in September.

But there's added hype and school spirit this year for Konkle, a Class of 1966 alum and a guardian of a campus tradition.

"I'm like a little kid anticipating Christmas about seeing the bell hanging in its new stand, atop of its new pedestal," the 70-year-old said.

The school's victory bell -- the 1966 senior class gift -- peals upon the hill every time the football team wins on their lakeside field. The instrument has become a symbol of the legacy Konkle and his classmates left at the Glen Ellyn campus.

But the bell's luster was noticeably lacking the last time Konkle saw it during his 50th class reunion in 2016.

"It was disheartening," he said. "There was no part of it that was not in disrepair."

Tom Traber, another 1966 alum and a mechanical engineer, also noticed the bell and its stand had deteriorated and suggested they come up with a plan to restore it.

An effort led by 1966 alumni has raised enough money to restore the victory bell at Glenbard West High School. Penny and Rusty Kreitzer and Pete Konkle, right, celebrated their 50th class reunion in 2016 with their prizewinning homecoming parade float, featuring a replica of the bell, their class gift to the school.
An effort led by 1966 alumni has raised enough money to restore the victory bell at Glenbard West High School. Penny and Rusty Kreitzer and Pete Konkle, right, celebrated their 50th class reunion in 2016 with their prizewinning homecoming parade float, featuring a replica of the bell, their class gift to the school. - Courtesy of Pete Konkle

Their mission would resonate beyond their class. A new plaque now recognizes the other benefactors of a roughly $14,516 restoration project fully funded by donations. The classes of 1966, 1967 and 1968 provided major funding for the bell restoration. The new support frame was donated by the class of 1984. And the brickwork around the pedestal was a gift from the class of 2018.

"There was just all this outpouring of support for what the bell symbolizes about Glen Ellyn, about the high school and about our class," Konkle said.

Traber reached out to the Verdin Company, a bell manufacturer Cincinnati, Ohio, about refurbishing the weathered bell that, over the years, had suffered "a lot of nicks and dents," Konkle said. Traber came up with a budget, and Konkle began fundraising last 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. More than 60 percent were 1966 graduates.

Verdin Company workers polished the Glenbard West High School victory bell. Its blue-gray patina should return over time.
Verdin Company workers polished the Glenbard West High School victory bell. Its blue-gray patina should return over time. - Courtesy of Pete Konkle

Some of the checks he received from alumni and others came with notes. 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.

"I'm awe-struck that the bell has become one of the two or three things that people protect and value when they think about Glen Ellyn," Konkle said.

But it's his personal connection to the bell that led Konkle to protect its future.

"Being a class officer was to me a great honor. I just felt like all these wonderful people that I call classmates ... they gave me a responsibility of doing things in their name, whether it was the decorations committee for the prom or chairing the class gift committee," he said. "Whatever it was, I felt honored to be a class officer and the bell was kind of the last, best expression of my participation in class activities."

The bell was removed shortly after graduation and sent to the Ohio bell manufacturer for the restoration. It is now back in Glenbard West's possession and should be placed on the new pedestal and frame this week, district spokeswoman Peg Mannion said in an email.

"Everybody did such a beautiful job," Glenbard West 1966 alum Pete Konkle said of the effort to restore the school's victory bell.
"Everybody did such a beautiful job," Glenbard West 1966 alum Pete Konkle said of the effort to restore the school's victory bell. - Courtesy of Pete Konkle

Bryan McWherter, a West alum and executive of a steel fabrication company, led the effort to create a new frame.

"The frame has been powder coated so it's never going to rust," Konkle said.

He will reunite with his classmates to see the newly restored bell at a brief dedication open to the community between 10:30 and 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22. That's three hours before the homecoming game between the Hitters and Downers Grove North, but Konkle will be too excited about the bell to think about kickoff.

"It should look beautiful for many, many years to come," Konkle said. "It's so satisfying it's going to be as handsome as it deserves to be."

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