Where did Illinois State’s Victory Bell come from?
One of Illinois State’s oldest Athletics traditions is the Victory Bell, a traveling icon that leads the football team onto field before kickoff and is rung after each touchdown and victory.
So where did it come from? A garage.
It was in that garage, just a few blocks west of today’s Tri-Towers, that Chuck Witte ’71 and some buddies spent the summer of 1964 building the Victory Bell. They were the leaders of Redbird Rooters, a group of student super-fans for Athletics (like today’s Red Alert) that was looking to make some noise.
“We spent the whole summer working on it in that garage,” said Witte, now a retired circuit judge. “We had to make sure it would last. It’s amazing that it’s lasted almost 50 years.”
For those who haven’t seen it, the bell hangs from a metal frame attached to an old wagon. The bell came from an old Navy ship, says Witte, and he and his friends had to grind it down and then shine it. The wagon, which a Redbird cheerleader helped get in Carlock, needed to have its wheels rebuilt before the 250-pound bell could be hung.
Witte worked on the bell with fellow Illinois State students Jim Tischler and Eric Oliver. It was Oliver’s dad—a local judge—who owned the house with the garage. The bell was Tischler’s idea, and he was able to fabricate its sturdy frame thanks to his job at Bloomington’s then-Eureka-Williams.
The bell debuted during the fall 1964 football season. Up until then, the Redbird Rooters were a “card section,” giving out different cards to fans so they could collectively spell out words and designs as a section.
“It was very loud. You could hear it throughout the stadium,” said Witte, a former student body president. “That’s really why we built the bell.”
It was called Bone’s Victory Bell back then, in honor of then-President Robert G. Bone (1956-1967). He was beloved by the students, who wanted to honor him with the namesake bell, Witte said. They even rang the bell for Bone late one night in November 1964, after he returned from a six-week trip to Egypt.
David DiPaolo ’65 was chosen in a schoolwide election to be the first official ringer of Bone’s Victory Bell in fall 1964. He rang the bell at Homecoming, and during Bone’s welcome home celebration.
“As a sports fan I saw this as an excellent opportunity to help encourage more school spirit on campus,” DiPaolo told STATEside.
The bell also played a key role in Illinois State’s crosstown rivalry with Illinois Wesleyan. It was used for the march on Illinois Wesleyan when the schools used to play each other in football.
The two student bodies were known to play pranks on each other. In September 1967, for example, Illinois Wesleyan boosters stole the Victory Bell from ISU and chained it to a building on their own campus. It was returned to ISU, of course, and the Redbirds went on to beat the Titans three days later.
Today, the Victory Bell is operated by various student groups throughout the season. This year’s Homecoming game Victory Bell Captains will be from the Student Government Association.
It is also a mainstay in the annual Homecoming parade. The 2014 parade steps off at the corner of College Avenue and University Street at 10 a.m. Saturday, October 4.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.