How a rogue act saved a priceless piece of local history

How a rogue act saved a priceless piece of local history


By Randal B. Thatcher




Many of you will remember that popular Paul Harvey radio series from the 70s, where he would recount a well-known story, but add some little-known angle, or forgotten fact, about the event; always concluding with his signature tag line: “And now you know the rest of the story.”

It is in this same spirit that I wish to add a long overlooked postscript to a popular local story that you probably thought you knew.

You likely read about, or heard about, or maybe even attended, the rededication of that beautiful old 1899 school building in Spring City a couple years ago: the culmination of Herculean efforts to raise funds and finally complete the restoration of that grand old edifice.

That wonderful old building stands today, beautifully restored, as a tribute to the dedication and determination of many, whose names are likely known to you. But there is one name that’s gone largely unmentioned. Until now…

There was a time, during the late 60s—after a newer elementary school building had been built—when that old 1899 schoolhouse seemed nothing more than an abandoned old eyesore in the middle of town. So, perhaps it was no real surprise that the city council of that time had voted to squeeze whatever money they could from the decaying old husk, including selling off the old bell to a company in California.

As word began to spread, however, that the old bell was to be trucked off to the highest bidder—that same old bell that had been such a reassuring and heartening sound in the town every day for so many years—one particular townsperson took particular exception.

Rather than fight city hall, Willard Hansen simply loaded his biggest block-and-tackle system into his truck, along with his middle son, Howard, and drove over to the old school.

This was no clandestine mission to be carried out under cloak of darkness, but a blatantly unabashed midday act of civil disobedience, to save an important piece of local heritage.

As father and son were on the roof, securing pulleys to lower the bell down the side of the old building and into the waiting truck below, they were spied by a passerby, who inquired as to their unauthorized doings. That fellow just happened to be the sitting principal of the new elementary school, Roger Allred.

After they’d explained to him exactly what they were up to, Roger cogitated for just a few seconds, before replying, “Let me help you!”

The old bell was soon secreted safely away in one of Willard’s old granary bins, where it remained, hidden and protected, for many years.

Fast forward to the early 80s: Spring City had just been declared a National Historic District, rekindling a collective pride of the town’s heritage, and inspiring the local DUP chapter to undertake a monumental effort to save the old school.

It was during this time of excited fervor over local history and heritage, that one of the DUP members just happened to lament, within earshot of a certain Roger Allred, how sad it was that the old bell hadn’t been saved, as it could’ve become the crowning jewel in the old school’s restoration.

I can only imagine the sly and knowing grin on Roger’s face, as he suggested to this woman that she just might want to pay a visit to the home of Mr. Willard Hansen.

Within a few days, Willard heard a knock on his door, and opened it to discover a group of inquisitive DUP women standing on his front porch.

Only after he was satisfied that their motives were pure, and their interest truly restoration-minded, did he escort them to the door of one of his older, little-used granary bins, for a revelatory peek inside.

I like to picture the beaming faces of those women, as they gazed with shocked delight upon that old bell, long believed to be lost and gone forever.

With what little budget they had, and the clever help of super-handyman John Western and his crew, they managed to get the old bell hung back in its former spot, and even got it ringing… sort of… for a while.

This is where the Friends of Historic Spring City enters the story, to help with consistent and concerted fundraising, and where restoration expert, Craig Paulsen, comes into the picture.

It took 30 years, but that 1899 school is finally fully restored, along with its crowning jewel—that same old beloved bell that Willard Hansen single-handedly rescued all those years ago. And an important part of that restoration was figuring out how to get it ringing again, and resonantly announcing the top of every hour for us grateful and gratified townspeople.

I heard that old bell clanging out the noon-hour just yesterday, during a stroll to the post-office, and it made me smile.

But, whenever Richard and Karen Hansen hear that bell—Willard’s son and daughter-in-law—it means even more. “It helps me remember Willard and Howard every time it rings,” says Karen, “and always brings them closer.” And Richard is certain that, somewhere, in that other dimension, they both must be smiling.

And now you know the rest of the story!