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The Bell – From St. Louis to South Sioux City to ASU’s West campus

April 03, 2007

“…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

John Donne,”Devotions upon Emergent Occasions,” 1624

It stands nearly hidden behind ficus trees trimmed to hedge-height, but looms as large as the Fletcher Library or the Paley Gates at Arizona State University’s West campus.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who might know its name, but just about anyone familiar with the University of Oxford-esque campus can quickly point you to its location sandwiched between the University Center Building (UCB) and Faculty/Administration Building (FAB).

It is, of course, the ASU Bool Bell, a star performer at two of the West campus’ signature events.

“The bell seems to be – for me and for the campus – a sign for a new beginning, a starting point,” says Charles St. Clair, technical director for the Department of Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance (IAP) in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Named for its donors – Herb and Betty Bool – the Bool Bell has a history that goes back much further than the West campus. In fact, the campus that today serves 9,000-plus students wasn’t even a glimmer in the eye of Arizona State University when the bell was cast in 1904 by the Stuckstede & Bros. Bell Foundry in St. Louis, Mo. The foundry operated continuously from 1864 through 1940 under several Stuckstede family names and was the largest American producer of bells west of Cincinnati. It also cast a three-ton bell that to this date remains the largest bell in St. Louis.

The bell was cast for the parishioners at St. Michael’s Church in South Sioux City, Neb. – church clergy had baptized the bell “St. Christina” upon order from the foundry and the name was struck onto it prior to delivery – where it chimed as the larger of two bells in the chapel’s belfry. When it rang for the last time at St. Michael’s is anyone’s guess, but it was eventually taken from its lofty steeple spot and, well, moved.

The Bools – Herb is an emeritus board member of the Banner Health Foundation – first spotted the one-ton dinger in 1973, not in a church setting, but in the front yard of Sam’s Antique’s at 32nd Street and McDowell in Phoenix. Informed by the Russian emigrant and Holocaust survivor who owned Sam’s that the bell was not for sale, the Bools returned a few years later and bought the property, the business and, of course, the bell.

The bell was moved from 32nd Street and McDowell and found respite as an exterior decoration at more than one of the Bool’s residences before the community-minded couple decided a permanent home was more fitting for such a hefty centerpiece. Enter the Arizona Historical Society and the logical notion of placing it at ASU’s fledgling, under-construction campus in 1983.

On the occasion of the West campus’ 10th anniversary in 1994, the bell was the jumping off point for a time capsule that was interred just three feet south of its location – the time capsule will be opened in 2034 to celebrate the campus’ 50th year.

Today, the Bool Bell sounds the alarm that big things, important things, signature things are happening at ASU’s West campus. The silver and copper clapper is sounded to mark the beginning of convocation twice annually. It plays another headliner role, calling high school student marchers to gather each year for the January 15 Martin Luther King, Jr., Day celebration.

“Years ago, a committee was formed and we sat down to establish a precedent or a legacy that could be and would be passed down to future classes,” remembers St. Clair, an academic professional who teaches in the New College and is the booming voice introducing each of four West campus college graduation ceremonies and the formidable figure at the podium reciting Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “The bell signifies a coming together and is a strong symbol. It’s different from the striking silhouette of Fletcher Library or the ornate, bold character of the Paley Gates. The bell calls us – it is a herald – to join together in a new journey.”

Editor’s note: Our thanks to the Dakota County (Neb.) Historical Society for its help in researching the bell’s time in South Sioux City. Staff at the Historical Society continues in its efforts to fill in the blanks.