Final bell at Mercersburg is named for carillonneur

May 03, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Jim Smith drove almost 100 miles through a winter storm on Christmas Eve two years ago.

The emergency? He had to play the carillon at Mercersburg Academy.

It's that devotion that earned Smith emeritus status at Mercersburg, and the school honored the 68-year-old carillonneur by engraving his name in the 50th and final bell that was raised Friday morning at Bryan Barker Tower.

"It's by far one of the most well-deserved honors," said Sarah Smith, 30, Jim's youngest daughter, who drove from Deerfield Beach, Fla., to attend the bell-raising. "He's one of the most dedicated people I know. He's not only been a staple at the school, but he's been a huge part of the community. I'm so proud."

Engraved boldly on the side of the 4,139-pound bell is the tribute to Smith, only the third carilloneur in the school's history. The words were so big that they could be seen from hundreds of feet away:


James Winston Smith

Faculty Emeritus


Organist-Music Director-Carilloneur

"I was amazed. I had no idea the inscription would be so large on the bell," said Carol Smith, Jim's wife. "I just thought it would be really small on the bottom of the bell. ... That's big."

Jim and Carol live in Mercersburg and have a home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Jim originally is from College Park, Md., and came to Mercersburg in 1965, two years after graduating from college.

He retired as organist and music director in June 2001, but has maintained carilloneur duties.

"It's always been wonderful here. That's why when I retired I felt so lonely," Jim said. "I didn't know anybody."

Smith was anything but lonesome Friday as the entire student body joined him outside the chapel. Dozens of supporters turned out to witness the honor, but Smith was most pleased to see all three of his children.

"I was overwhelmed that the whole family came. That was a surprise because I didn't think they would be able to make it," said Jim, who will turn 69 on May 11. "I'm glad because I don't get to see them all at one time very much. They came a long way."

Sarah Smith remembered the holidays of 2006, when her father drove from Baltimore to Mercersburg after Christmas Eve dinner to play the carillon for the midnight recital, a long-standing tradition at the school.

Jim Smith remembered it, too.

"That night, it was snowing and sleeting. It was a mess," he said. "It was important because it was Christmas and about 150 people show up for it. The sound of the bells came out of the tower, hit the ice and came back up."

The new bell - third largest in the carillon - arrived Thursday night at the Mercersburg campus and was under constant surveillance overnight. It sat on a flatbed truck as school minister Larry Jones delivered kind words about Smith and his importance to the academy.

A cable then raised the bell about 150 feet into an open window in Barker Tower, where it joined the 49 other bells - 43 of which were hung shortly after the chapel was built in 1926.

It touched the edge of the window before gliding in beneath one of the other bells.

"It wouldn't be dad's bell if it didn't clank off something," Sarah Smith joked.

The bell was cast at White Chapel Foundry in England. It was shipped to Baltimore before being taken to Greenville, Ohio, to have its clapper installed. The bell filled the last available spot in the carillon, which is one of 12 in Pennsylvania, according to the World Carillon Federation.

Jim Smith hoped to play the carillon with its new bell by Monday.

"As soon as it's playable," he said.

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