Courier Staff Writer
A fixture at Ottumwa High School football games has gone missing.
At 1:22 p.m. Wednesday, school staff reported to Ottumwa Police that the OHS Victory Bell had been stolen from the school’s warehouse on Gateway Drive sometime between Dec. 28 and Dec. 31.
Danny Renfrew, director of operations with the Ottumwa school district, said staff first noticed something was amiss when they returned from vacation on Wednesday.
“The gates were found open down here by one of my other employees who wasn’t familiar with what was in there in the compound,” Renfrew said.
The bell was stored at the warehouse on Gateway Drive when it wasn’t being used at OHS football games by cheerleaders. It was mounted on a trailer and described to be bronze in color with red primer showing on the inside of the bell. The bell weighs approximately 1,000 pounds and is approximately 2- to 2-1/2 feet tall. There is engraving on the bell to include “Ottumwa College” and date believed to be 1865.
“We’ve recovered the trailer but not the bell,” said Ottumwa Police Lt. Tom McAndrew.
He did not release the exact location that the trailer was found but said it was in city limits.
“If anything — and I don’t know for sure what it’s made of — but I’m guessing people want the metal,” McAndrew said. “It’s very possible it could be a senior prank, but there’s no way of telling right now.”
Debb Kent, head cheerleading coach, said the bell is rung following touchdowns and victories for the Ottumwa Bulldogs.
“I have a personal attachment to the bell as it was my family that refurbished it, and it made me very proud to have the cheerleaders and students use the bell at all the football games,” Kent said.
The bell was first used to call students to class in 1869 in the tower of Ottumwa’s first public school, College Square (later called Adams School), according to the OHS 1996 Alumni Directory. It was cast by the William Blake Company of Boston.
When Adams was demolished and reconstructed in 1883, the bell was transferred to the top of the new Adams School, where it stayed until 1929, when the tower was removed.
In 1934, a bell cote was built on the current high school lawn. Labor and materials for the cote were donated by alumni, school board members and high school students.
“With the rebirth of the Bulldog Nation this year and the growing positive school spirit by the entire student body, it saddens me that someone would want to destroy this piece of history for Ottumwa High School and the students — past and present — that it represents,” Kent said. “I hope it can be returned, refurbished and brought out again at the first football game in the fall of 2013.”
The bell was rededicated in August 2001 after Kent and then-principal Bill Cornelius banded together with Kent’s husband and parents-in-law to bring the bell out of storage. Several Ottumwa businesses helped make the trailer and frame, and Kent’s sister-in-law, Ann Hasselman, drew the bulldog head mounted on the top of the bell.
“That bell means a lot to a lot of people,” said Don Hansen, OHS social studies teacher and an OHS alumnus. “I particularly remember our wrestling team winning the last Little Six Conference Title, which was heralded by our team ringing the bell afterwards. Each team member got one ring.
“It was pretty thrilling to have the gym filled to the brim with spectators and athletes who would later let the whole north side know who won.”
Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl said the bell is too heavy and cumbersome to be carried. Renfrew said the bell “is pretty formidable.”
“There would be tens of thousands of high school grads that would remember that bell on Friday nights, whether they wheeled it out or rung it or heard it after Friday night victories,” Eidahl said.
Renfrew said whoever committed the crime cut the locks on the gates and drove in to steal the bell.
“It appears pretty intentional since the locks were cut,” Eidahl said. “It’s unfortunate that a senseless act of theft would impact such a memorable, long-standing tradition.”
Renfrew had no comment on whether any security cameras are used in the area.
If anyone has seen the bell, McAndrew said they should call the police department at 641-683-0661.