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Stolen mess hall bell returned to Camp Cherith after 35 years

In the fall of 1982 Camp Cherith, a local kids’ summer camp north of Vergas, was winding down for the year, closing for the winter, as usual. But this time, something was different. When maintenance came to check on the buildings they noticed an important piece was missing: the mess hall bell.

Mild chaos ensued while camp directors tried to figure out what happened, who took it—and replacing the old bell, which was forged in 1886, was a hassle all its own. But, finding no answers about who took it, the camp moved on. They returned to business as usual, and all but forgot about the old bell—that is, until a mysterious package arrived at the camp’s gate this summer.

The package contained the bell, along with a note, written in green marker, that read, “This historic bell was removed from its resting place in the fall of 1982. In that time, it has resided as far east as Michigan, as far south as the Gulf Coast, and as far west as the Pacific Ocean. It is time it is returned to its rightful place to ring in a new generation of Camp Cherith campers.”

“It’s just a mystery!” said Becky Nelson, who served as executive camp director for 18 years.

Nelson was on the board of directors when the bell was taken, and she had been tasked with finding a new one, which she said was not easy. For many years, the camp counselors used a foghorn to call campers to meals and let them know when it was time for their activities. Then, in 1997, a new bell replaced the fog horn.

Now that the bell has been returned it’s caused a whole new curiosity among the camp directors. They want to know who took it—but not to punish the playful thieves.

“We’re not upset,” said Nelson with a laugh, adding that they believe they’re getting closer to finding the culprit.

“I had just been told a few years ago that one of our local guys who recently passed away used to come into camp and ring the bell at night,” said Sarah Glewwe (Mallett), the camp director for the girls’ program. “I bet those locals had something to do with it.”

The bell is quite heavy—it would take at least two people to lift it, maybe three to get it off a roof—so Nelson is sure there was more than one person behind the heist. And, if so, the group of locals who used to brag about ringing the bell at night just might fit the bill.

Glewwe says she’s questioned the group, and they hedged.

“They say they have an idea who it might be, ‘A friend of a friend’,” she said.

As for the old bell “ringing” in a new year of campers, it’s in pretty tough shape to do so. But Nelson has some ideas about what they’re going to do with the little piece of “history.”

“We may bring it to the 70th anniversary celebration in October,” she said, adding that the timing of the bell’s return couldn’t have been better. “God sure has a sense of humor and timing,” she said.