The Bells of Wilmington Resonate for 60 Years
Wilmington College’s Simon Goodman Memorial Carillon is 60 years old today (Sept. 18). The College’s aural treasure’s bells were cast at the request of a Catholic pope, was given to a Quaker college in memory of a Jewish man — and was played for many years by a Presbyterian.
PICTURED: The Simon Goodman Memorial Carillon is a central focus for those traversing Collett Mall and takes on a different character depending upon the season. It was dedicated 60 years ago in September 1960. (BELOW) The Carillon was played live during the 1998-99 academic year on a regular basis. Then, nontraditional student Barbara Price Dennis ’99 frequently climbed the tower, taped her fingers and played the manual keyboard as the result of having received an Excellence Award, which also allowed her to pursue carillon studies. Pictured are some of the 35 bells, which range in weight from 20 to 1,000 pounds.
“That’s a great example of ecumenicity,” remarked Albert Meyer, the Cincinnati man who, for nearly 40 years, made the trek to Wilmington each spring to play for the College’s Alumni Day and Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies. His repertoire ranged from hymns like “Simple Gifts” and WC’s “The Wearing of the Green and White” to such songs, popular in their day, like “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
Bessie Goodman gave WC the 35 bells and carillon keyboard in memory of her husband, Wilmington businessman Simon Goodman. The Carillon bells were cast in Holland at the request of Pope Pius XII and rung at the Vatican’s pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. The bells weigh 6,500 pounds with the largest one tipping the scales at 1,100 pounds and the smallest 20 pounds.
The College built a 60-foot tower to house the instrument at the north end of Collett Mall. It was dedicated Sept. 18, 1960. Through the years, its most frequent players — carillonneurs — include Meyer, longtime music professor Robert J. Haskins and Barbara Price Dennis, a member of the Class of ’99. Also, Tom Pulsifer ’65, was the College’s carilloneur during his four years as a student at Wilmington College. He went on to be a church organist, choir director and composer of sacred music. A non-traditional student and highly regarded keyboard player, Dennis received an Excellence Award during her senior year to pursue carillon studies, research the College’s instrument and play it on a regular basis.
Dennis’ extensive repertoire featured her arrangements of music ranging from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to the themes from Cheers! and Titanic and TV’s Jeopardy! along with to The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari.”
Then WC President Dan DiBiasio praised the creativity, quality and relevance to the College’s mission of Dennis’ yearlong project. “Barbara’s playing of the Carillon has struck a chord with the campus community, which now better understands the significant part of Wilmington College’s heritage represented by this instrument. She has shown that the Carillon is a living, vital and unique piece of our campus.”
Dennis graduated and continued to play on occasion, but within a few years the instrument fell largely silent except for Commencement weekend. Alison Ward was a senior on Sept. 11, 2002, when the College held the first anniversary observance of the 2001 terrorist bombings that constituted the watershed tragedy of her generation. Dennis was called in to play for the special event, which hearkened the poignant scene a year earlier when a stunned campus community gravitated to the Carillon for an impromptu vigil.
“The bells were so beautiful,” she wrote at the time, especially moved by the musical part of the remembrance ceremony. “She played hymns I remember singing in church, seated tightly between my grandma and grandpa, the hymns for which everyone puts their hymnals away because they know them by heart.”
Ward lamented that the 9/11 ceremony was one of very few times she’d heard the Carillon play since arriving at WC and entering the New Student Convocation. She and a number of classmates decided, with agriculture professor Don Chafin’s enthusiastic encouragement, to embark upon a campaign designed to raise both awareness of this campus treasure and funds for its renovation and automation. Her minimal goal was for it to chime on the hour once again.
The students were successful in raising $19,000, which was significant — but not nearly enough, so Ward graduated in 2003 and the project was placed on hold until 2006. During the Carillon’s 46th year on campus, the College invested in repairing, replacing and refurbishing much of the Carillon’s infrastructure, which included a new roof, fixtures, hardware, wires, clappers, etc. Also featured in the $150,000 renovation was the automation of nearly two-dozen bells that accommodate the Westminster chimes’ playing on the hour with a single bell sounding on the half hour.
Then College trustee David ’51 and June (Leppert) ’56 Harcum complemented what already had been accomplished by paying for the automation of the additional bells and facilitating the Carillon’s memory upgrade and expanded song list with the sophisticated Chime Master System.
While the instrument can still be played manually by an actual carillonneur, the Simon Goodwin Memorial Carillon has been enjoyed on a daily basis ever since through the marvel of automation. Chafin was thrilled to see his class’ project come to fruition. “We’ve got something magnificent — the Carillon is a masterpiece. It rings of College life and collegiality across the campus.
This story is the latest monthly “Sesquicentennial Moment” highlighting the College’s 150th anniversary in 2020-21. It will appear in a comprehensive book chronicling the history of Wilmington College, which is anticipated in early 2021.BACK