Dedication of bells and observation deck, awards presented at Festival opening ceremony

The opening ceremonies Friday evening of the 37th annual Bell Tower Festival were preceded by the history-making premier concert on the full four-octave, 47-bell carillon atop the Mahanay Memorial Bell Tower.

Retired newspaper publisher and previous winner of the Bell Tower of Fame Award Rick Morain had the honor of performing the first live concert on the bells. Morain selected “America” as the first piece, followed by “America, The Beautiful.”

Floyd Mahanay had requested that patriotic and religious music be played from the tower, and Morain obliged by playing “The Water Is Wide” and “Simple Gifts” as his next two tunes. His performance also included “Ode to Joy,” “Danny Boy,” and “The Whiffenpoof Song” as a nod to Morain’s Yale heritage. He finished with “The Great Gate of Kiev.”

About 200 persons were gathered on and around the Bell Tower Plaza for the event, which was introduced by Peg Raney, a member of the Bell Tower Community Foundation.

Greene County Chamber of Commerce president Ora Stevens gave a welcome and then turned over the podium to Carole Custer, president of the Bell Tower Community Foundation. “Whooohoo!” was Custer’s comment on the 47-bell carillon.

She gave a brief recap of how the carillon was finally completed and introduced fellow Foundation board members vice president Craig Berry, secretary Peg Raney, treasurer Bob Schwarzkopf, and Pete Bardole, Tim Christensen and Jean Feldmann. Custer also introduced county engineer Wade Weiss and thanked him for his countless hours in seeing that the project was completed correctly.

Tim Verdin of the Verdin Company

Tim Verdin has played an important role in the project as the sixth generation of Verdins in the Verdin Company of Cincinnatti, OH. His cousin, who is a fifth generation Verdin and still owns the company, sold Greene County the first 14 bells for the tower.

Tim Verdin was at the ceremony. “This is an incredibly exciting project. You have such an incredible unique tower and carillon, I just can’t say enough about it. We’re very proud to be part of it, and that you chose us to be a part of it,” he said.

After reminding the audience that the Foundation is still accepting monetary donations for further enhancements to the tower, Custer officially presented the 47-bell carillon to Greene County, with board of supervisors chair John Muir accepting.

Carole Custer presents bells to John Muir

“May it peal forever as an integral part of the life of the community,” Custer said.

Next on the program was the dedication of the observation deck near the top of the tower as the Paul Nally Observation Deck.

Nally grew up in Cedar Township and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1936. He graduated from the University of Nebraska and then served with the 8th Air Force in England as a bomber pilot. He spent most of his career with the Department of Defense Mapping Agency in St Louis, continuing to fly for his work and for pleasure. He flew a total of 65 years.

Nally returned to Jefferson in 1984 and was a quiet champion of several causes in the county. He died in 2007 at the age of 90. His will included a $175,000 bequest to the Bell Tower Community Foundation to enhance the tower, and it was that sum that jump started the Foundation’s renewed effort to enhance the tower with plaza seating and planters, and then to complete the four-octave carillon.

The opening ceremony of the Festival continued with Stevens thanking festival co-chairs Brandon Gustoff and Delaney Gibson. Steering committee member Jill Johnson recognized other committee members. Chamber office assistant Sheilah Pound read names of the many sponsors who made the festival possible.

Greene County Medical Center announced its queen and king, Velma Radebaugh and Horace Hedges. Radebaugh was the first person for whom “Happy Birthday to You” was played live on the carillon, as she was to celebrate her 97th birthday Saturday. Hedges is 102. Both were at the ceremony.

Regency Park Nursing and Rehab Center administrator Mark Ewoldt announced Chuck and Virginia Radke as the king and queen there. They were not at the ceremony, but rode in the parade Saturday morning.

Custer next switched roles and presented the Bell Tower of Fame Awards as chair of the awards committee.

The 2017 Bell Tower of Fame Awards were presented to Jack Lashier, Jefferson High School class of 1966 and director of the Iowa Hall of Pride; and posthumously to Vernon Eagle, Jefferson High School class of 1940 and executive director of the New World Foundation, an early financial leader in the civil rights movement.

Lashier noted that he learned growing up in Jefferson the important role extra-curricular activities have in teaching kids.

Mary Eagle noted her father would be 98 years old. She called him “an extraordinary human being, an extraordinary life mentor.”

Carole Custer (center) and Bell Tower of Fame recipients Jack Lashier (left) and Mary Stuyvesant Eagle on behalf of her late father Vernon Eagle


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