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Bell repair ensures continuation of a Mizzou tradition

(From left to right) Mike Absheer, Mike Klote and Greg Emanuel, Engineering Technical Service technicians, pose with the restored, historic Switzler Hall bell that they re-engineered with a remote controller to allow the bell to be rang from anywhere on campus.

In the 200 years since it was established, the campus and community of the University of Missouri have initiated and shared many traditions in addition to dressing in black and gold and cheering for the Tigers.

Built in 1871, Switzler Hall is the oldest academic building on the MU campus. Within the bell tower of the grandfather building — as it is sometimes called — is the originally installed bell, which historically rang on the hour to signify the beginning of classes. These days, the bell only rings to mark important campus or national events, to honor members of the MU family and on Tap Day, the annual induction of students into MU’s secret honor societies.

According to Karlan Seville of Campus Facilities, the bell was rung manually for years by pulling a rope and even hitting it with a sledgehammer once the clapper was removed. Eventually, an electromagnetic clapper was installed that, when energized, claps more than 40 pounds to chime the bell.

Recently, the bell has not been working because its clapper coil failed. However, this past November, Engineering Technical Services (ETS) technicians Mike Absheer, Greg Emanuel and Mike Klote, were tasked with restoring this important historic artifact to service, allowing Mizzou to continue the sacred tolling of the bell.

“What many people don’t know is that the Switzler Hall bell has been a part of engineering for years,” said Klote. “Any time the bell needed to be fixed, it has come back to us.”

After realizing a new coil for the clapper was needed, the three engineers searched high and low to find a replacement. The situation seemed grim because electromagnetic bell systems are rare. But, an old memory and a phone call later, a solution was at hand.

“I thought about Royd Parker, who was an old ETS technician here at the university. I remembered that he worked on some church bells, so I called him up,” said Absheer. “And he had an old church bell in his basement.”

The bell’s historic stature was evident when Absheer, Emanuel and Klote found themselves devotedly working on the bell after most other MU employees had gone home for the night.

“It was a pleasure to work with the old bell again. I’ve become pretty attached,” said Klote.

Using off-the-shelf components, they engineered a one-of-a-kind bell system with technology not used on the previously manually controlled bell. Klote and Absheer reconstructed the hardware and installed more safety components to the bell. Emanuel, an IT whiz, customized software that allows the bell to be “rung” and controlled by Ethernet with just a click of a button from anywhere around the world. Emanuel also has plans to add automated scheduling to the current software.

Whenever the bell needs to be tolled, a request is placed to the Director of University of Affairs, Ana Compain-Romero, and the bell is “rung” directly from the office.

“The Switzler Hall bell is something that sets us apart from many schools,” said Compain-Romero. “It is a lovely sentiment and lovely way that we can continue to honor the students, faculty and family of Mizzou in such a special way.”

And thanks to the dedicated efforts of Klote, Absheer and Emanuel that treasured tradition has been maintained.

The Switzler Hall bell rang an 11-ring sequence at 11:11 a.m. on Veterans Day 2011 and will continue to ring in the future to commemorate the passing of love ones and in observance of Mizzou’s historical events.