In many ways, Annabelle “Ann” Underwood was a special lady.
“She was a middle school teacher who loved middle school students,” Richard Underwood told a large crowd Thursday afternoon, Dec. 6, of his late wife, who passed away Feb. 18. “She told me a number of times she loved middle school kids because every day was a new day. They didn’t carry a grudge.”
The former superintendent of the Somonauk School District was one of a handful of speakers at a special ceremony in front of the newly-restored school bell, between the Somonauk middle school and high school on LaSalle Street.
According to Superintendent Dawn Green, the ceremony had a two-fold purpose. Besides honoring the former teacher with a plaque, the ceremony also dedicated the new unit housing the school district’s old school bell.
The bronze bell, which was built in 1856, is composed of 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin, and is valued at about $5,000. Years ago, it was rung by hand by a select group of students, signaling the start of a new school day. In 1958, the bell – which had become outdated – was purchased by a local businessman, M.A. Shaw.
According to former school board member Barb Tuttle, Shaw contacted her a few years ago, telling her he was going to retire and wondering if the school district was interested in buying back the bell.
Thanks to contributions from the Somonauk Education Foundation, the Somonauk Alumni Association and the Somonauk Education Boosters, the bell was returned to the district. It was then restored by James Gerlich, Somonauk High School class of 1959.
“He spent a lot of time making sure the bell looks the way it does today,” Green said.
About $3,500 from proceeds from the winter basketball concession stand committee were used to buy needed supplies for Taylor Morphey, an SHS senior, to build the housing unit for the bell as part of his Eagle Scout project. Labor was provided by Best Kutters Inc. of Somonauk.
Morphey, a member of Troop 5, said he started the project in January and finished by the end of September.
“I felt it just needed to be done,” in explaining why he chose this project. “And I think I accomplished that. It feels good (to see it completed). Hopefully, it will be maintained and remain presentable.”
“This is a source of pride for the Somonauk school district and the community,” Green said. “It’s really nice.”
Green added that there are no formal plans on how to use the bell just yet. It’s possible, she said, that soccer players will ring it after victories.
“It just got done during the soccer season so we don’t really know how to utilize it,” she said. “We have to sit down and come up with a plan.”
Funds from Ann Underwood’s memorial were used to purchase and install the plaque, which sits at the base of the bell on the south side.
“We accept it for all teachers,” Richard Underwood said.
Besides teaching language arts, Ann Underwood – who was born in Galesburg – was active in many local groups and organizations, including the UCC Union Congregational Church, the Valley West Community Hospital Auxiliary Board and the Somonauk Library.
Many of her family members were present for the ceremony, as were middle school students.
“She played in our card club,” Tuttle said. “All the members are here.”