Source: Sherman Publications

School bell rings again

by Susan Bromley

September 14, 2011

Ortonville- With the start of the new school year, bells are ringing in the halls of Brandon schools again. But soon a very special bell, one that hasn’t heralded the start of school in nearly 50 years, will ring again in its new home at the Old Mill, Mill St.

The Ortonville Community Historical Society has accepted a donation of the school bell that once hung in the cupola at the top of a brick school building constructed 100 years ago at Cedar and Ball streets in the village. The school, which originally housed kindergarten through 12th grade classes, was later known as the Ortonville High School and was demolished in 1963. Leo Kisell, a special education teacher in the Brandon School District, was one of the men who bid on the demolition of the structure, and took ownership of the bell.

Kisell died last month at the age of 84, and his widow, Kay, donated the bell to OCHS.

“She asked if we would like the bell and we jumped at the chance,” said OCHS President Dean Salley. “It has been at her house since the school building was torn down. We are very happy to have it and we will mount it on a display so people can come in and pull a rope and hear it ring again. This is a fantastic bell.”

Salley estimates the cast-iron bell weighs close to 80 pounds.

Kathleen Leece, a 92-year-old Brandon Township resident, remembers fondly that her father, Leslie Saunders, used to ring that bell, proclaiming the beginning of the school day. Saunders was the custodian of the school in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s.

“At 9 a.m. every morning, they had to ring the bell meaning it was time for school to start,” Leece said. “Sometimes he would see kids hurrying to get to the school, and he would give the bell some extra rings to make sure they got to their room. Because when they got to the room, they would ring a buzzer, meaning everyone was supposed to be in their seat. Back then, everyone walked or someone had to bring them, there was no bus service.”

Leece is pleased that the bell will be at the Old Mill now.

“They have such a nice display at the old (Mann) schoolhouse, it’s a nice gesture to have the bell there to go with it. It’s nostalgic for a lot of people that remember. There are still a lot of people around here that remember that bell.”