A hidden history: the untold story of JJC's alumni bell
The Joliet Junior College alumni bell stands inconspicuously on a simple, austere steel frame in a quiet, wooded nook of the JJC Main Campus between the lake and the E-Building, easily passed by as students, staff and faculty hurry to and from their destinations around campus. But behind this unassuming college landmark is an inspiring story of one man's commitment, dedication and pride in the history of JJC and the Joliet community.
As the story goes, Bill Glasscock, '37, the first president of the JJC Board of Trustees, saved the bell from destruction when he learned the former Will County Courthouse, built in 1885, was set for demolition in 1969. The 1,500-pound bell, which had chimed on the hour from inside the courthouse clock tower for decades, held a certain nostalgia for Glasscock. To him, it represented a significant piece of Joliet and Will County history that needed to be salvaged. And there was no better place to preserve the old bell, Glasscock thought, than on JJC's newly built campus on Houbolt Road.
Glasscock's daughter, Gayle Crompton'64, recalled the mix of humor and aggravation that marked that day for the men gathered in the Glasscock family garage.
"[They] used their total sum of knowledge to work all afternoon to get the bell to shine," Crompton, who was in her early 20s at the time, said. "First they used soap and water, dish soap and water, laundry soap and water, and a lot of elbow grease to remove the filth of many years in the tower at the courthouse.
"They then started with the chemicals to brighten and shine the bell. It worked pretty well, and the bell began to shine. Finally, they were satisfied that they had done all they could to improve the bell enough to have a place of honor on the campus. They all stood around in awe with smiles on their faces. 'Well, I guess that is that. We can rinse it off now,' someone said. There was a pail of water filled and splashed over the bell. It immediately turned back to the original dark color!"
An inscription on the bell, which simply reads "Founders Meneely Kimberly, Troy, New York, 1872" hasn't shed much light on the bell's past, other than the year and place where it was forged.
During the late 60s, the formative years for JJC, Glasscock stood out as a strong and committed leader. The transition from the high school to the new campus on Houbolt Road was a difficult one at times, and while Glasscock wanted to ensure that traditions were preserved, he also wanted the new college to establish its own identity. This, in part, is what compelled him to acquire the bell.
"At Joliet Township High School where JJC was first located, there was always a bell to signal the changing of classes," Crompton said. "So, there simply needed to be a bell at the new campus. But not just any bell – my father wanted a big bell with character."
In December of 1969, the bell was mounted on top of a temporary tower made of telephone poles, and rang every 10 minutes to the hour and on the hour. It stood in the quad of the interim campus—a central location for students to gather between classes, hold pep rallies and even stage anti-war demonstrations.
The college's Alumni Association Board took on the task of raising funds to build a permanent tower for the bell, which was assembled and officially dedicated on October 10, 1979.
Today, though the bell no longer rings every hour, its relevance at JJC is no less significant. In 2009, the college established its first logo, in which the bell is featured prominently.
"The discovery of the history of the college's bell has been a pleasant awakening to the depth of richness that exists on the Main Campus," said Dr. Gena Proulx, JJC president. "Few community colleges can tie their roots to something of this degree of significance to both alumni and the community. We've stumbled across something that our employees, students and alumni can embrace. Now, the bell and its use in the new college logo pave the way for us to tie tradition to the future. What a wonderful thing to celebrate!"