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School bells have familiar ring

Tue., Aug. 21, 2007

Ask any school-age child how many days of summer vacation are left and they’ll all give you the same answer: Not enough.

August is waning, and the new school year is on its way. In two short weeks, school doors will open around the region.

There was a time when each school day was signaled by the sound of a bell. Not the electronic, jangling sound familiar to students today. But the sound of a bell being rung by the teacher or the principal of the school. Small bells sat on the teacher’s desk and were rung to mark the end of periods or the end of the day. Occasionally, they were used to bring order to a class of chattering children.

Wanda Woodbury has a collection of antique and vintage bells of all kinds. Since she picked up her first bell in 1960, Woodbury has amassed dozens. She’s particularly fond of her school bells.

Woodbury was a teacher in Rockford when Freeman school was built. The school was going to be outfitted with all the modern conveniences. The principal told her that the battered old bell that sat on her desk didn’t need to come to the new classroom with her.

“I was told to throw it away,” Woodbury says. “But I didn’t.”

She tossed it into a box of supplies, and the bell made the move. And, wouldn’t you know it, there was some trouble with the new electric bell system. “I was glad I had kept it,” she says. “I used it quite a bit.”

That bell was just the beginning.

Other bells, like bells meant to be kept by the side of the bed and used by an invalid, dinner bells, ships’ bells and delicate china “lady bells” joined the original school bell. Now, they are displayed throughout Woodbury’s home.

“I just got interested in bells and started looking for them wherever I went,” she said. “But the school bells are my favorite.”

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