Magnificent bells will chime once more


"The world needs you. There is large work to be done, good work, and you can make a difference. Whatever your life work, take it seriously and enjoy it. Let's never be the kind of people who do things lukewarmly. If you're going to ring the bell, give the rope one hell of a pull. I wish you the fullest lives possible – full of love and bells ringing."
– The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough

By Tiffany Williams

John Whisler graduated from Manchester in 1973 with a degree in music. As a student, he played the Manchester Chime in the central tower of the Administration Building.

He comes from a long line of Manchester graduates and family with deep roots in North Manchester. As a boy, Whisler visited the campus while his older siblings were studying there. He and his mother would sit at the Manchester Fountain and listen for the Chime to play in the evening.

On one occasion his mother took him up the tower’s many stairs to see the bells. “That’s probably when the seed was planted that grew into my desire to play them myself,” Whisler said.

John-WhislerHe first started playing the Chime in January 1970 when he was a freshman.

“Who wouldn’t want to play those magnificent bells? It was a job that set one apart as possessing an unusual skill and responsibility, as well as having physical access to a mysterious and fascinating corner of the campus,” he said. 

He described playing the Chime as a unique experience, that it is “…an instrument like no other, but fortunately rather simple once you get the feel of how the mechanism reacts to your touch. But perhaps the most daunting aspect is that there is no such thing as practice in private … That encourages quick learning.”

What lasting impact did the Chime have on him?

“I think Chime playing was a good experience to teach me reliability and responsibility,” Whisler said. “I played four mornings and seven evenings per week, which is a lot of commitments on a college student's schedule.  I came to value the tradition of the Chime and wished to perpetuate it as best I could.  I also earned a small amount of money, which, back in those times, went a surprisingly long way to making life a little easier.”

Not all of those evenings went as planned. “Perhaps my least favorite experience happened one evening when, in the middle of a tune, I heard a loud banging on the door. Firm but polite knocks usually indicated that someone wanted to come up and watch me play,” he said, “but these knocks were much sharper and louder. After finishing the tune, I went down the stairs to answer the door, and discovered that I was nailed in!  Couldn't open the door a crack!

“So I went back to finish my 15-minute set like nothing happened, and planned my escape.  The room where the playing levers were located had windows that opened onto the roof of the Administration Building, so I opened one and climbed out onto the north edge of the roof and waited for someone to pass below.  Before long, someone I knew came into view and I yelled to get their attention and explained my predicament.  Before long, someone from maintenance appeared with crowbar and claw hammer and set me free.  Minor repairs were made to the door, and bell-ringing continued without interruption.  So far as I know, no culprit was ever apprehended.”

He came to view the Chime as “his” bells, and afterwards wanted to see them preserved and cherished. He contributed to the new Manchester Chime tower project in order to contribute to the cultural experience of MU students.

 “When I was a senior in high school, my dad had a little talk with me about college,” Whisler said. “He said he would pay for my college education, and in exchange he expected me to do the same for children I might have in the future. As life turned out, I didn’t have children, so I’ve tried over the years to be generous in my support to Manchester so that other people’s children can benefit from the obligation my father asked of me.”

The Chime bells were removed for refurbishing in August 2021, shortly before the Administration Building closed for good. It was taken down in 2022. Oak Grove, where the building stood, will be a gathering space for today’s students, featuring fire pits, seating and the beloved fountain.

In its new home on the Manchester University Mall, the Chime will have a standalone tower and four new bells added to the previous 10. Whisler hopes the new bells will expand the possible melodies that can be played, as he frequently encountered a tune that needed just one more note.

His undergraduate experience was rich and diverse. He sang in A Cappella Choir, was a disc jockey for the campus radio station, WBKE, and has cherished memories of life in Ikenberry Hall.

Whisler and his wife Karen now live in Charleston, Ill. They are both retired from Eastern Illinois University, where they had long careers as librarians.  The two met through committee work in the Illinois Library Association.

Though Whisler’s wife, Karen, is not a Manchester grad, they both feel compelled to give. “She recognizes the importance of Manchester to me,” he said.

Tiffany Williams graduated magna cum laude from Manchester University in May 2022. She wrote this as part of an academic internship with the Office of Strategic Communications. Her degree is in English.

Dedication is at Homecoming

2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the Manchester Chime. The new tower on the Manchester University Mall will be dedicated at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22.

For decades, its songs were with students as they headed to class and they were the backdrop for evening meals.  The Chime sounded for Commencement, for weddings, memorial services, and special alumni gatherings. Its bells were with us in mourning after Sept. 11, 2011 and, more recently, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 visit to Manchester.

A new Chime tower was one of the initiatives of the Students First! comprehensive campaign, which concluded on June 30, 2014. The campaign raised about $500,000 for the new tower. When the estimate inevitably rose over the intervening years, generous donors stepped in to help make up the difference. The Verdin Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, refurbished and tuned the 10 original bells and is constructing the new tower with four additional bells.

Alumni and friends raised $8,700 to purchase the original Manchester Chime, created by the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Md. On Aug. 11, 1922, hundreds of people came to campus to hoist the bells up to the tower using ropes and pulleys.