From the Beacon Journal, October 19, 2002, Akron OH

Ringing in sesquicentennial

Mennonites celebrate return; bell will go to Indiana

by Colette M. Jenkins

Beacon Journal Religion writer

Denton Croyle
Denton Croyle, archivist at the First Mennonite Church in Wadsworth, talks about the Wadsworth Institute, which opened in 1868 to train ministers and missionaries.

THE CONGREGATION at First Mennonite church in Wadsworth is getting a 150th anniversary gift it has wanted for nearly eight decades - a historic bell that once sat atop the first Mennonite college and seminary in North America.
"We have pined for it and longed for it for years," said Dr. Denton Croyle, church historian and archivist. "There has been some gnawing and undertones of wanting it back and several efforts were made over the years to retrieve it. But we Mennonites, being the peace loving people that we are, didn't want to push."
The Mennonite congregation had called the bell its own when it established Wadsworth Institute in 1868 to train ministers and missionaries. Because of a lack of funding, the college closed after 10 years, and the property on College Street, where Isham Memorial School is currently, was sold to a succession of private owners and finally to the school board.
When the original Wadsworth Institute building was razed in l923, the bell was taken from the belfry and placed on the lawn of the property. During the 1950s, the bell was set on a concrete slab and kept at the site, claimed as property of the school board.
A few months ago, Croyle, a retired dentist, approached the Wadsworth school board to ask for the bell so that it could go to the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. There, it would be used to call seminarians and faculty to chapel three times a week. The seminary is a successor to Wadsworth Institute.
The school board, which had no knowledge of the bell once belonging to the Mennonites, authorized board president Jim McIlvaine to investigate the bell's history. "We became satisfied that this was the same bell that had once called the Mennonites at the Wadsworth Institute to worship," McIlvaine said. "The board thought it would be the appropriate gesture to return it. We think it's wonderful for it to go back and be used for its original purpose."
At First Mennonite's 10:30 a.m. worship service on Sunday, Oct 20, the bell officially will be returned to the congregation.
First Mennonite traces its roots to 1851, when four Mennonite families arrived from the Montgomery-Berks County area of Pennsylvania. The church's first pastor, the Rev. Ephraim Hunsberger, and his family arrived in Wadsworth a year later, and the first church building was dedicated in 1853.
That first church building was 32 feet by 42 feet, with four windows on each side. It had two front entrances - one for men and one for women. A partition as high as the church's benches separated the men and women in the sanctuary. Two stoves provided heat.
In 1854, the church started the first Mennonite Sunday school in Ohio. In 1892, the congregation bought the then-unoccupied Congregational church on College Street, which is now St. Marks Episcopal Church. The congregation stayed there until 1960, when it moved to its present location at 405 Trease Road.
Fifteen easels inside the church illustrate its 150-year history. On the panels are old sermons, historic tidbits and photographs, including those of the 800-pound bell and Wadsworth Institute.
The local church, whose ministries include a day-care center, bowling teams, choir and quilting group, is part of a larger group called the Mennonite Church USA.
Mennonites, who number more than a million in 61 countries, are part of a larger Christian faith called Anabaptism which grew out of the Protestant Reformation in Europe the early 1500s. They believe people should voluntarily follow Christ through adult baptism, and they aspire to follow the example and words of Jesus in everyday life.
The general church's relief, service and peace agency is called the Mennonite Central Committee. It helps organize various areas of service to people suffering from poverty, conflict, oppression, and natural disasters.
Mennonites have organized sales for more than 40 years to benefit the work of the Central Committee. During these sales, items including quilts, artwork, wooden toys and antique cars are auctioned
Another project developed during World war II and supported by the Mennonite Church is meat canning. From October to May ,a canning unit mounted on a flat-bed trailer enclosed with fold-up sides travels to 33 locations in ll states and Ontario, Canada. At each site, a local meat-canning committee purchases meat and organizes volunteers to can it for shipment to places like Bosnia, Serbia, Haiti, North Korea, Russia and the United States.
For four days beginning Monday, October 21, the canning unit will be at the Gerber building behind Central Christian School on Kidron Road in Kidron, OH. Volunteers are being sought to cut meat, stir meat, fill cans, wash and dry cans and label cans. Last year's canning at Kidron yielded 16,695 cans of beef and 3,060 cans of broth.
The canning will take place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For more information, call 330-857-7721.
As in previous years, members of First Mennonite plan to be among the volunteers. "Mennonites have always had a mutual-aid feeling toward those in need," said Croyle, a former coordinator of the canning effort. "It is our duty as Christians"
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or