School bell rings again after 41 years

Virnig uses his skills to bring a piece of history back to life

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Roger Virnig of Little Falls with the school bell he refurbished, and using a pole from an old gas station, he mounted it at his home so it can ring again.

It may be because it was something his parents left to him, or perhaps, because an old school bell might be fun for his six grandchildren. Or, because his wife can use it to call him in for supper when he’s out in his workshop.

Whatever the reason, Roger Virnig of Little Falls has finally put to use the old iron school bell from the old Brickyard School in Pike Creek Township.

It once again peals when its cord is pulled, although not as regularly as it did more than 40 years ago, and  certainly fewer people hear it.

“I just love to hear it ring,” said Virnig. “The sound is so clear and crisp.” The sound can be heard all over the yard at the home they share west of Little Falls on Highway 27.

Judy uses the bell more than he does, Virnig said.

Virnig didn’t attend the Brickyard School, but rather the District 1198 country school for a few years, before attending classes at the Antlers Hotel in the fifth grade. Once the Our Lady of Lourdes School was built, he finished his elementary education there.

Virnig’s parents, Paul and Lucy, purchased the Brickyard School in 1971, remodeled it and used it as a summer home, after they moved from the farm. The farm was sold to Virnig and his young wife, making his dream of dairy farming come true. He and Judy raised three boys and three girls on the farm.

Virnig’s father, however, wanted him to have the bell from the school.

“Why they didn’t sell that bell at auction, I don’t know,” said Virnig. “Before dad died in 1996, he said when he was no longer here, I would get it.”

The Brickyard School building, turned home, was sold in 2004 and sits empty a little bit east of Highway 238 on the north side of the road, said Virnig.

At the base of the bell, Virnig fabricated a piece of metal with his initials and the year it was remounted.

Last year, the bell was refurbished by Little Falls Granite Works, where Virnig works part-time. This year, he put his skills as a welder and fabricator to work, using a pole from an old gas station sign a friend had given him. He built the base and put his initials and the year “2012” on it.

At 71 and retired from dairy farming, Virnig not only works part-time at the Granite Works, but also raises acres of crops, does maintenance work for the township, repairs old farm machinery, although not engines, and volunteers at his church.

“I had an old-timer tell me once he’d like to die putting one foot up in front of the other,” said Virnig. Showing the bottom of his boot, he said, “There’s no grass growing under here.”

Last spring, Virnig bought a 1200 Gold Wing, a new hobby to keep the grass from growing under his feet.

“I like to keep busy and I love what I do,” he said.