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The Victory Bell

“O mighty bell, thy power is great;
          Your vibrant tones ecstatic swell,
And speak again of kindly fate
          Thy notes are notes we all love well.

 Ring out and tell of vict’ry won,
          With penetrating tones, O bell.
Whene’er you speak, to live is fun;
          When you keep still, to live is –!”

Cosmos November 12, 1925


In 1888 the seniors began a long-standing tradition at Coe College by bestowing a memorial upon the college. A small group sneaked away from campus on a mule team in the dead of night and brought back a large boulder, engraved “88” on one side and placed the stone in front of the Main building. After this, gifts have ranged from sundials and concrete benches to biological specimens and a stuffed American bison for the museum. The class of 1913 began another tradition, that of celebrating victories and flunk day, with their senior class gift of the victory bell.

The idea for such a gift came from Cornell College, as the bell in the Cornell chapel was run for an hour to extol a victory over Coe in 1912. As a result of this exhibition Coe students decided that they must also have some way of broadcasting their exultation over similar victories. This was detailed in the January 28, 1932 Cosmos.

According to various members of the class of 1913, the gift was also provoked by a spirit of optimism and faith. The Coe teams had been having a consistent run of bad luck and had lost practically every athletic meet in which they had engaged, but the students far from being discouraged by these scores, felt that perhaps the teams were not receiving enough support. . . . so in the Class Day exercises for the class of 1913, which took place on the Senior steps on Old Main, it was announced that the graduating class would finance the erecting of a Victory Bell.

Erected in 1914, the bell hung from the metal roof of a wooden structure approximately 15 ft. tall.  It was used for the first time in October 1914 to celebrate a football victory over Simpson. At this initial performance, President Marquis officiated at the rope. There was an unwritten rule that the bell was to be rung only in instances of victory in football or forensics.  One exception was made on the morning of November 11, 1918 when beloved custodian “Dad” Myers woke students by banging on a snare drum and ringing the bell in celebration of the signing of the armistice to end WWI.

After the rope was lost in the early 40’s, students would climb the rotten and dangerous structure to ring the bell. The Building and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees deemed the structure unsafe and removed it in 1944, placing the bell in storage, where it remained for three and a half years, much to the disappointment of the student body.

At the 1947 Homecoming the new bell structure, constructed by Marvin Cone, was presented as a memorial to Donald H. Niggemeyer, a member of the "Coe 22" that had been killed in action October 26, 1944. The “22” were a group of Coe men who returned from 19 weeks of basic army training to the campus in the fall of 1943 to complete their senior year. They attended officer candidate school and were commissioned together in 1944. It was during this time that Niggemeyer married Frances Wagner, also a Coe student, on December 21, 1943. He then left December 29 for Ft. Benning and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He went overseas in September of 1944 and died October that same year as a result of injuries sustained while on patrol in northern France.

It is in his honor that the new structure was dedicated; constructed of rough-hewn stone blocks, the new tower arched over the bell, its keystone engraved with a large letter “V.” There was great discussion of where it should be placed, as some thought the men’s athletic field, while others felt it should return to its original location, behind the women’s gymnasium, which later became the Temporary Union Building (or TUB). Finally, it was erected behind the old chapel (where Marquis Hall is presently).

This soon became a popular place on campus for students not just to celebrate victories in athletics and forensics, but in dating and courting as well. This new structure, although not as tall as the original, was still large enough for couples to stand underneath in the evening hours for a kiss. It had become tradition at Coe not only to ring the bell, but it was said that a freshman girl was not truly a “Coe-ed” until she had been kissed under the victory bell at the stroke of midnight. This was also a popular spot for couples to become “pinned." In 1957 a column began in the Cosmos entitled "Under the Victory Bell" which printed a weekly list of who on campus was pinned, engaged, or recently married. 

With the construction of Marquis Hall in 1958, the bell had to be packed away once again. Each stone was carefully removed and marked in order to reconstruct the tower in an alternative location. Students erected a temporary wooden structure with a small bell outside the TUB, but this too had to be removed when the TUB was demolished.

The tower was reconstructed in 1966 in front of Eby Fieldhouse, where it currently stands. Over the years there were a few too many victories and the bell, unfortunately in the mid-seventies, cracked. In 1975 Raymond Coward, a Coe graduate of ’33, donated the funds to purchase a 1,000 pound, 40 inch diameter bell from the Schilling Museum in Northfield, MN. This bell, too, cracked in ’98.

Nancy Kaufmann, of Cedar Rapids, agreed to give Coe the bell her family had acquired after the Buffalo Methodist Church burned to the ground in 1904. Her father received the bell in the early 1960s and had placed it in front of his farm equipment store, Happel & Sons, Inc. The new bell was much smaller, just 28 inches in diameter, and was hung from a small, portable tower that could be transferred to the athletic field to be rung after a victory game.

Although this gift provided the college with a bell, it was rather small and the traditional stone bell tower was empty, as this bell was simply too small to be hung. It was the senior class of 2000 that decided this 85 year tradition needed to be properly preserved. The class managed to fundraise $4500 thanks to an alumni challenge from Jeff Bussy. These funds allowed for the purchase of a 44-inch cast-iron bell to be rung in victories in football and by the freshman in orientation and seniors at graduation, a new tradition that began in 1992, thereby continuing the tradition of the Victory bell, one that signifies just a much in silence as in joyful sounds.


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