The First Five
As we celebrate the dedication of Henry Square and reopening of the Memorial Belltower, learn more about the first five bells cast and their donors through first-person accounts and family memories.
This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting the restoration and completion of the Memorial Belltower. Click the link to learn more about the history of NC State’s Legend in Stone.
The story of NC State’s Memorial Belltower is one of generosity, dedication and commitment. It is also a story about people — including those whose names are forever etched in the Shrine Room to honor their sacrifice in World War I, those who persevered with the idea to create the memorial and those whose philanthropic partnership has made it possible.
For a century, people have come together to complete the Belltower. And in the early part of the last decade, that included a group of donors who gave the first five bells in our now 55-bell carillon — part of the Westminster chime set — during the Finish the [Bell] Tower campaign.
For years, their bells were displayed in D.H. Hill Library; a few others bought through that effort were not cast until a 2017 gift from Bill (‘81) and Frances Henry to the university’s Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign enabled the purchase of most of the full complement of bells as part of a major Belltower completion and renovation project.
Last summer, all of the bells were installed in the belfry together. On May 14, they’ll officially ring out for the first time.
Each of these gifts was made for a reason, in honor of the experiences and connections that define what it means to be a part of the Pack.
The Gardner Bell
Donated by the late Dr. Edward Gardner Jr. in 2011, this bell was a memorial tribute in honor of his wife of 54 years, Helena H. Gardner.
“Among our dad’s exceptionally wide range of interests, he loved churches, carillons, organs and chiming clocks. We grew up with a church organ in our home. Dad collected chiming clocks. There was one in most every room in his house. He even built a full-size grandfather clock from a kit. It played the Westminster Quarters in his main hallway for over 45 years. After our mother’s death, our father gave each of us a grandfather clock with a short poem in her honor engraved on the cabinet. With this gift, the Westminster Quarters was a part of our homes as well. Giving the Helena H. Gardner Memorial Bell by our dad was a natural matter of course,” the family shared.
“Helena was a kind, wonderful and beautiful person. She was sensitive and loving. Early in life, she sang in the church choir and taught Bible school. She dedicated her life to our family and always found a way to make situations better. She encouraged us to always improve and pride ourselves in doing what was right. Our parents lived a happy life together and their support for each other and family was steadfast. Many years ago there was a newspaper article written about our father’s parents. They were married over 79 years. The article said our grandfather never passed by his wife without saying ‘I love you.’ While our parents did not say it at each passing, you could certainly tell by the look in their eyes and their loving relationship, they felt the exact same way.”
“Dr. Edward Gardner Jr. was an alumnus of The Ohio State University and a WWII veteran. Previous to moving to North Carolina, Dr. Gardner was an assistant research professor, Division of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Medical College of Georgia. We moved to the Triangle in the 1970s, and he then worked as the director of extramural programs for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
“NC State meant a lot to our parents. Their sons Mark and Matthew, daughter Lisa, son in-law Nathan and first grandson Austin are NC State alumni. Their second grandson, Noah, is currently attending NC State. Lisa is an associate director of Capital Project Management and has worked for the university for 20 years. We have great memories of our time at NC State and now have an even greater connection with the school and the Memorial Belltower.
“We look forward to NC State being a part of our future!”
‘On the Shoulders of Giants‘
Siblings and alumni Dianne Speight Clinton, CPA ’83, and Dr. Kevin Speight ’81, were also inspired by family when it came to their decision to donate a bell — specifically their mother and father who, never attending college themselves, made provisions for all their children to attain a university education. Dianne and Kevin both obtained degrees from NC State and formed special relations with mentors there.
“Our parents, Carl Speight and Ruth Avery Tucker Speight, believed in the power of the educated mind, and they made many sacrifices that made it possible for us to go to college,” Kevin Speight said.
In addition to their parents, the bell honors the siblings’ most impactful professors, all of whom Dianne and Kevin consider “giants” of influence in their lives. Fittingly, their bell’s inscription includes the quote from Sir Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“The professors that we held in such esteem took seriously the job they had to educate the daughters and sons of parents who never got the chance to go to college,” Speight said. “They made certain that they transmitted to us the knowledge and modeled the professionalism we needed to be successful college graduates and community contributors.”
Those influential professors include Forrest “Buzz” Hentz, Jack Wilson, Robert Hitchings and Wesley Doggett.
“The thing that made these professors stand out was their true concern for the students’ development and the sacrifices of student’s families, which led them to dedicate nearly unlimited time and patience to learners striving to advance their knowledge and expertise,” Speight said.
“Theirs were the shoulders we stood on to see further.”
The Fearrington Bell
Sisters Jessica Travis, Florence Fearrington and Ann Peyton Fearrington connected with NC State in 2012 to learn more about how they might honor their brother, who passed away in 1981, by getting involved with the Belltower project.
“Our brother [James Cornelius ‘Pass’ Fearrington] attended NC State’s College of Design, and we wanted to give a bell to honor him,” Florence Fearrington said recently.
The Fearringtons’ brother left North Carolina in 1972 for a job in fabric design in New York. Florence recalled that the opportunity was so good, he made the move before graduation. Sadly, Pass died at the age of 33.
In an interview with Sylvia Adcock of NC State magazine in 2012, Ann Peyton shared that she was inspired by a newspaper article about the effort to purchase bells.
“Pass was crazy about music beyond belief,” she said during the interview. She consulted with her sisters, and they decided that donating a bell would be something that would have pleased Pass, who was devoted to art as well as music.
Ann Peyton, who died in 2018, also studied at NC State, completing a master’s degree at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 1972. She and Jessica were able to visit the Belltower and learn more about its history from Matt Robbins in 2012.
‘Surrounded By Honor’
William F. Morris III grew up hearing the stories of his grandfather’s connections to NC State. Morris Sr. (1884-1972) remembered when the university was made up of only two buildings. He worked in facilities — which included working on the Belltower.
The Morris Facilities Services Complex was named in tribute to the eldest Morris’ life dedication to the university. He served as instructor in the mechanical engineering department from 1909-1913 and 1931-1933, was the first director of the service department and was directly responsible for the construction of several buildings, renovations and additions.
W.F. Morris Jr. completed an engineering degree at NC State and went on to be honored as one of the College of Engineering’s distinguished alumni. He started the company that would become Morris & Associates, which Morris III took over in 2002.
“That was the impetus for naming a bell — my grandfather’s connection to the Belltower and our family’s connection to NC State. I wanted to do something that would allow the family to honor and celebrate both of these men,” Morris III said. “It also occurred to me that if we take grandchildren and great-grandchildren to the Belltower when the bells are ringing, we could tell them, ‘That note is the Morris bell.’”
Morris was able to take his late father, a World War II veteran who served in the Air Force, to see the family’s original bell in 2012.
“The entire project is surrounded by honor and respect for the history of those times and all that it has come to mean at NC State. It’s been a wonderful experience,” he said.
A Decade in the Making
The class of 2010 has played a vital role in bringing real bells to NC State’s beloved landmark. Their senior class gift purchased the largest bell in the 55-bell carillon, which will soon ring out across campus.
“It was a cool way to leave behind a piece of some fun college days,” said Brandon Spence, who recalled starting the Hillsborough Hike at the tower every semester.
For Gail Blakley, the Belltower was the site where the student body came together after big NC State wins. When it came time to make a contribution to the senior class gift, she said, “I wanted my name on the bell.”
“My grandfather was able to travel all the way to NC State to visit me on campus. He was a World War II veteran and really enjoyed the memorial and appreciated the monument for the World War I alumni killed. As we were there, he opened up and talked about his time in WWII, and it was a very memorable moment for me hearing his stories and about his past. I will always have that memory with him,” said Ryland Clark, one member of this group of now-young alumni who donated to the bell’s purchase.
Geo Kaiser, another donor from the group, still remembers the impactful traditions created at the Belltower.
“The class ring ceremony was very meaningful. Knowing that my senior ring ‘slept overnight’ in the tower was awesome. Seeing the tower turn red at special moments will always be a wonderful impactful memory,” he said.
“The completion of the Belltower is an end of an era, and the beginning of a new one. But it’s an important step in respecting our NC State symbol. After all it is our Wolfpack symbol more than any other.”
For Ashleigh Eason, the Belltower is part of her connection to past and future generations of alumni. “The Belltower has held a special place in my heart since the first time I heard the electronic chimes sound while walking to Tompkins Hall for English 101 my freshman year. I’ve heard the chimes many times since then, and often I’ve wondered what it would be like to hear the bells from a carillon ringing out in their place. I was so excited when our class chose to raise money to help make this dream a reality, and I can’t wait to see what has been a wish for me and for so many others come true,” she said.
Jake Bloodworth was so dedicated to the cause, he even donned a Belltower costume at one point.
“The Belltower has held a special place in my heart since the first time I heard the electronic chimes sound while walking to Tompkins Hall for English 101 my freshman year. I’ve heard the chimes many times since then, and often I’ve wondered what it would be like to hear the bells from a carillon ringing out in their place. I was so excited when our class chose to raise money to help make this dream a reality, and I can’t wait to see what has been a wish for me and for so many others come true,” Bloodworth shared.
“I still remember sitting in Witherspoon during a student government meeting and hearing about the ‘Finish The Belltower’ campaign from Matt Robbins. I knew this was a campaign that required immediate attention and I joined the team in helping sell T-shirts in the Brickyard to raise money for the carillon bell system. I wore a handmade Belltower costume to help raise money and awareness for the cause!
“The Belltower is a beautiful memorial and symbol of hope for so many people. I remember taking graduation photos with friends at the Belltower with nervous anticipation of what would be ahead of us. Completion of the Belltower is important to continue the legacy of those that built the Belltower and for the future generations of North Carolina residents.”