HUDSON, S.D. – For years, Hudson Public School students heard the same reminder every morning.
Once the school janitor pulled on the rope inside the front door, the bell in the school's tower rang out, signaling the start of the school day.
“It was the sound of the school,” Hudson alumnus Lynn Thorpe said.
A sound long since missing. The last group of seniors graduated from Hudson High School in 1985. The school district eventually merged with nearby Alcester, and students now attend school there.
All that was left of Hudson Public School were memories, an empty school building – and that bell.
“People, when they came back for alumni reunions, they liked to ring that bell,” fellow Hudson alumna Nathalie Torkelson said.
It was a reminder of days gone by. For many in Hudson, not hearing that bell anymore was a reminder that their school was closed. An addition built in 1940 still was used for community purposes, but access to the original section eventually was blocked off.
The bell had been silenced.
Unfortunately, it's still silent and probably will remain that way. But at least it's front and center once again, back on the block it called home for 113 years.
A memorial to the school, which was destroyed by fire, was finished in September, just in time for the annual Hudson alumni reunion. A prominent part of that memorial is the bell, which was recovered from the rubble after the school partially collapsed during the fire.
“Everybody was really happy” to see the bell, Torkelson said. “Everybody was pretty devastated when the school burned down. It's like part of it is still there.”
On April 21, 2007, many feared the bell was gone forever. A fire started in the 1940 school addition and spread to the original school. The damage was so great that both buildings had to be razed.
Upon instructions from city officials, contractors found the bell while cleaning up the rubble. For three years, the bell sat in a storage room at the city library.
In the meantime, alumni began raising money by selling bricks from the old school and DVDs containing class composite pictures and old yearbook photos.
“All that money was going to be used for something to remember the school,” Torkelson said.
Someone suggested a memorial with the bell, fittingly, on top.
The bells went off in Thorpe's mind, and he sketched a few designs.
This summer, as the memorial was being built, Thorpe and Torkelson's husband, Bob, brought the 247-pound bell out of storage.
“It had a lot of char on it, had a lot of rust on it and a lot of dung – bat dung,” Thorpe said.
It was also cracked and the temper was gone from the metal, costing the bell its ringing sound.
“It just goes 'thunk' now. We tried ringing it,” Thorpe said. “It was disappointing.”
That disappointment eased after the bell was cleaned, painted and placed in the memorial, which also includes granite blocks from the original school building. Once again, Nathalie Torkelson said, Hudson High graduates had a visual reminder of their alma mater.
“For years to come, people are going to know this is where the original school was,” she said.
The Hudson school bell may not ring anymore, but it still rings in the memories of those who went to school there.