The Verdin Company is hard at work renovating UNI’s most iconic landmark: the Campanile. The company has already completed a number of tasks, including reassembling the bell frame, removing the cast iron lugs from the bells and fabricating new pieces.
“Anytime we can preserve history, no matter what that history is, it's important,” said Tim Verdin, the sixth-generation president of the Cincinnati-based company.
The renovations were ushered in a little more than two months ago during the Our Tomorrow campaign launch. Onlookers were captivated by watching The Verdin Company work its magic using the bell foundry on wheels.
By the time the renovations are complete on the Campanile, the iconic landmark will be better preserved for future Panthers to enjoy. It will also have nine new bells, bringing the total number of bells up to 56 and expanding the possibilities for what the carillon instrument can play. The bells are expected to be reinstalled in the Campanile in the spring.
The fanfare of the October launch event was just as exciting for Verdin as it was for the students, alumni and staff who were present on campus.
“Iowa has the friendliest people I think I’ve ever met,” he said. “Everybody who was there was excited. We really enjoyed our time at UNI.”
The Verdin Company was founded in 1842 as a clockmaking company, but was later expanded to work on bells as well. The Verdins first got involved with the Campanile more than 70 years ago when working on the clock component. UNI heard about The Verdin Company through the Meneely Bell Foundry, which had cast the original bells for the Campanile.
In the 1960s, the university was discussing expanding the carillon instrument. By this time, the Meneely Bell Foundry had gone out of business. When UNI wrote a letter to the Meneelys requesting work be done on the bells, they were redirected to The Verdin Company which had acquired the records. The Verdin Company was up to the task and expanded the carillon from 15 bells to 47.
Since then, The Verdin Company has done periodic maintenance work on the Campanile to keep it in the best condition possible. The company still has a tall stack of files on the Campanile that includes correspondence between the Verdins and UNI, dating back to when the relationship first began.
“It’s neat to be able to go back and read through those letters and almost recreate the history of the work that we did during that time,” said Verdin.
While The Verdin Company is accustomed to working on clocktowers, there’s something special about the Campanile. Tim Verdin explained there were actually two separate Meneely bell foundries that were owned by feuding brothers and their descendants. Verdin describes the foundry that cast the Campanile bells as the one with superior craftsmanship.
“I've always had a soft spot for that bell foundry because they were the only early American bell foundry that ever figured out how to cast a bell nice enough to be used in a carillon,” he said. “No other early American bell foundry ever figured that out. Others would just basically cast a bell, and it would ring whatever note it rang, whereas the bell foundry that cast [the Campanile’s] bells could actually cast a bell and make it make whatever note they wanted.”
Verdin believes there are only 10 carillons in the world that have Meneely bells like the Campanile on UNI’s campus.