An event of historical significance took place in Wadsworth, Ohio on October 20. The original bell which once graced the cupola of the Wadsworth Institute (1868-78) was given back to its original owners by the Wadsworth Board of Education after 135 years. This bell was ordered in 1867 from a manufacturer in Cincinnati, Ohio by pioneer churchman John H. Oberholtzer. He was an early promoter of the establishing of a college-seminary for the Mennonite church (in the midst of less than enthusiastic support from the constituency).
While the school lived a mere 10 years, it was the start in higher education for North American Mennonites. After the close of the school in 1879, the Institute building passed through several owners who used the three story 38 x 60 foot structure for various purposes including the operation of a normal school. This cast steel bell remained atop the old school Wadsworth Institute until the building was finally razed in 1923,long after the Mennonites had pursued their educational objectives elsewhere The school had been enlarged by an additional structure but the original 1868 building remained there for 56 years.
The historic bell was salvaged but was unused from 1923 on and it lay in the grassy lawn near the original building site. In 1949 it was mounted on a concrete slab beside the front entrance to Isham Memorial School, a part of the Wadsworth City School system.
Several unsuccessful attempts to obtain the bell were made. When we again recently approached the Wadsworth Board, the effort appeared to gain acceptance. The Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana presented a strong claim of rights to the prized casting and after many months of sustained negotiations and frequent letters, faxes, e-mail and telephone calls between Wadsworth, Cincinnati and Elkhart, the bell was finally released by the Board of Education this past September.
With the First Mennonite Church's 150th anniversary taking place this month, it was determined that the formal presentation might be made at that celebration. This was done on October 20 with Mark Weidner representing the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Attorney James R. McIlvaine as president of the Wadsworth School Board and Denton Croyle, historian-archivist of First Mennonite Church who assisted in the negotiations.
It is Seminary President Nelson Kraybill's hope that the historic bell can be refurbished and placed at an AMBS campus location to call faculty and students to chapel services on a regular basis. This would be paired with an equally prized possession already on the AMBS campus - the wooden door frame from the front entrance of the Wadsworth Institute, which was salvaged without lengthy negotiations from a local farmer who was glad to oblige the Mennonites!

Adapted from a press release prepared by Denton Croyle