Thursday, June 26, 2003

Veteran church bell ringer wants to hang it up at 83

The Associated Press

FORT RECOVERY, Ohio - For the first time in 56 years, St. Wendelin Catholic Church has an opening for a bell ringer. Ed Lefeld, who has been pulling the ropes since 1947, wants to call it quits.

The Rev. Matthew Jozefiak, pastor at St. Wendelin's, said Tuesday that he plans to talk to the church council about replacing Lefeld.

"Mr. Lefeld will have to train him," Jozefiak said. "There's an art to it. I don't know how to ring them."

Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, said bell ringing is rarely done by hand any more, replaced by automatic systems.

"Mr. Lefeld may be the only one of his kind left in this area; although, I have heard some newer churches are trying to return to the hang-rung bells for a more authenticated worship," Andriacco said.

Lefeld began ringing the church's three bells in 1947, at the request of the Rev. Herman Goldschmitz. He lived nearby and also mowed the grass and fired up the church's furnace, jobs he no longer handles.

At one time, he rang the bells for Mass every day. But about two years ago, the church began rotating daily Masses with two other churches. Since then, Lefeld has been ringing the bells only on Sunday and then during the week once every three weeks.

"I'll be 84 in November; I can't do it anymore," Lefeld said. "But I'll keep it up until they find somebody."

Jozefiak said it would be nice to keep the tradition of ringing the bells by hand. "Everything is going electronic," he said.

St. Wendelin has a large bell and two smaller ones. Lefeld said pulling the rope to ring the larger one is a workout.

"That big one - he's a corker," Lefeld said.

Lefeld, who retired in 1981 from his job making farm machinery, has six children, each of whom have helped him ring the bells at one time or another.

He said the ringer must know which bell to ring and when, or the bells will collide and jam together.

"Then someone has to crawl up 'The Thriller' to fix them," Lefeld said, pointing to an old wooden stairway without railings that leads to the bell tower 60 feet up.

"That first time, I was shaking," he recalled. He stopped climbing the stairs about five years ago and now gets help when the bells need to be unjammed.

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