Editor’s note — This story is reprinted with permission of the Greenville, Texas Independent School District. It is been slightly edited and is about the district’s fondness for a C.S. Bell Company bell manufactured in Hillsboro, Ohio.
When you walk through the doors of New Horizons High School, you cannot miss the mammoth bell in the foyer. It measures 32 inches in diameter, weighs 600 pounds, and is likely more than 100 years old. The bell is not only a grand beauty to behold; it also represents hope for the scholars who are working to earn their diplomas.
When they have finished their coursework, NHHS graduates don bright red caps and gowns and gather with their families and all the students and faculty to ring the bell in celebration of a landmark event.
“Once they ring that bell, they’re ready to go out and do the best they can and accelerate. It just gives them so much to look forward to and know they’re celebrated. It means so much to them and so much to us,” said Mark Loya, a former principal who is still with the school district.
The year 2002 marked the fifth anniversary of the bell-ringing tradition at NHHS, a non-traditional high school that combines self-paced, online instruction and in-person classroom instruction to offer students flexibility and individual attention.
To trace the history of the bell and its meandering journey over the decades, you have to sit down with noted fifth-generation Greenville native Pud Kearns, who traces its history back to a World War II scrap drive. But first, you need to hear about Kearns’ family and their proclivity for hoarding.
“My uncle, Jack Horton, was a scrounger from the time he was a child. There are unique characteristics that come with being a Horton – hoarding – wait, let’s call it collecting odd things and turning them into interesting things. We certainly have a quirkiness, a sense of creativity,” Kearns recalls, as her heavy sterling silver bracelets jangle with every gesture, of which there are many.
“So, Uncle Jack is in high school and goes down to the scrap drive just to see what’s going on. He gets down there, and there are four bells that have been donated, so he buys two of the bells for a penny a pound, which in the ‘40s is quite a bit of money,” she says. “He managed to get somebody to help haul them home. He brings them home and says to my grandmother, ‘I’m going back for the other two.’ My grandmother goes, “Not on your life! Two — that’s it — we’re stopping at two.’”
From there, the two bells found different homes: one at Club Lake, where it’s still located, and the other in a warehouse in the family’s feed mill downtown.
“It just sat there. It’s heavy. What do you do with the thing?” Kearns said, slapping the arm of her chair and letting out an exasperated laugh.
The feed mill closed, and someone hauled the bell to an uncle’s railway freight warehouse in Bonham, where it sat in the darkness for another 30 years.
“Then when my uncle retired, he called me and said, ‘I’ve got this bell. Do you want it?’ And I said, ‘Of course I do — I’m a Horton – of course I do! So, I get the bell and haul it back to my warehouse at Puddin Hill, where it sits some more.”
By now, the century had changed, and it was 2003. Greenville had a new high school, and a new stadium to go with it. And it just so happens that David Gish, now director of community outreach for the school district, lived next door to Kearns.
“I say to him, ‘I have this bell. What about doing something with it in the new stadium?’” Kearns says.
To which Gish replies, “Wouldn’t that be great? We could call it the Lion Bell.”
So, the bell was hauled over to the high school where, unfortunately, it was discovered that another bell had already been donated for the stadium. So, the bell started traveling around the high school: first to the metal shop, then to a display case, where it was wrapped in tinsel for Christmas and in spirit wear for homecoming.
“But it never rang, and it just didn’t seem right,” Gish said. “We felt it needed some life.”
In the meantime, Kearns had been a longtime member of the New Horizons Advisory Committee, and during a meeting in January of 2017, then-NHHS Principal Chip Gregory said he’d watched the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” during Christmas, and he loved the idea of ringing the bell to mark the graduation of every NHHS student.
“You know the famous line, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings?’ What could be more perfect?” Kearns said. And she sprang into action.
“I called Heath Jarvis – Greenville High School principal at the time – and I said, ‘This is Pud. I want my bell back. I want it to go to New Horizons.’”
And it arrived that very afternoon.
“This is where it was supposed to be,” Kearns says. “When the first graduate rang the bell that spring, I was crying I was so proud. This bell has waited 80 years to ring. Literally, it had never rung to speak of, and now it has a purpose.” Arianny Aportella – NHHS Graduate
Today, hundreds of New Horizons High School students have rung the bell.
“Some of our scholars walk by it and will ask, can I ring the bell? And I say, ‘Not yet. It’s not your day yet, but your day is coming.’”
For Aportella, that day was Dec. 15.
“I knew I was going to ring it one day, and it just made me feel really good,” she said. “Now I’m going to study to be a flight attendant and travel and see the world. I want to see what’s out there and meet new people. But I’ll never forget this, and I was surprised by how heavy the bell was and how loud it was in my ears. It was a big deal for me.”
Fun fact: Where was the bell made?
The bell donated by Pud Kearns and her family has the inscription “The C.S. Bell Co. #26,” which indicates that it was made at the C.S. Bell foundry in Hillsboro, Ohio. Its exact date of manufacture isn’t known, but it is most likely more than 100 years old, according to information on the company’s website. How it got from Hillboro, Ohio, to Greenville, Texas, is not known. But one thing we know for sure: it’s here to stay.