The belfry, or bell tower, had weathered decades of wind, rain and snow, along with a few winged visitors, and was ready for some much needed renovations. Thanks to a Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation grant last fall, the funds became available to renovate the belfry.
"We are delighted,” Pastor David Mulder said. “Not only is it a needed repair and refurbishing, but the added roofing is an architectural improvement.”
The repairs on the bell structure were needed for some time. After years of hard weather and high winds, siding on the belfry was damaged and the louvers were deteriorating. Because of the damage, water started to make its way into the church.
"The ceiling in the sanctuary was starting to show some leaking," said UMC member Derk Vokal.
The boards and siding were replaced, and new plastic louvers were added to keep rain and furry visitors out. A new design addition was a roof portion that extends a few feet out around the top of the belfry, a measure to keep water and snow from accumulating around the steeple. Also, an original tar paper cover was replaced with shingles.
Stan Clark Construction undertook the renovation project. Member Carol Busick is credited with a lot of the bid gathering legwork, as well as helping apply for the grant.
"It's pretty much maintenance free now," Vokal said of the belfry.
The church formed around 1889 and members moved into the current building in 1899. Joseph Fox was the pastor, and a bell was purchased to be installed in the new belfry.
"A bell was purchased for $37 ... The church had a steeple and bell tower," reads the Centennial History of the Homer United Methodist Church booklet, written by church historian Eugene Kenaga. "The word 'Homer' was cast on the bell. About six silver dollars were melted in the metal for the bell, giving it a clear ringing sound."
For the record, $37 in today’s dollars would be about $1,020.
Many people at the church believe the bell to be the original. At one time, the church used an electronic carillon, a system that played bell and chime music. Carillon systems can be made up of a series of actual bells and chimes, or as in the case of the Homer UMC, an electronic system that plays the music. After several years, the carillon system was no longer used, and the speakers for the system at Homer UMC were removed during the 1980s.
Although the church history booklet said the steeple was removed around 1931 during remodeling, it is believed it saw damage before that when high winds or a possible tornado tore through the area. After it was removed, it remained mostly intact, but was not reinstalled until the 1980s.
"Sometime between 1928 and 1936 (probably 1931 when the building was renovated), the steeple was removed from the church and the bell tower remodeled," reads the Homer UMC history booklet.
Now in a new home, the bell is ready to welcome guests.
"Oh, it still works well," Vokal said.
Inside the bell tower, just off the sanctuary, Vokal grabbed a knotted blue and white rope inside a closet and gave it a pull. Above him, a church bell chimed.
The renovation work took about two weeks to complete, and, yes, there were bats in the belfry.
"About 19 bats were displaced," said Vokal with a laugh. He said the contractor found an easy way of prompting the critters to look elsewhere for a new home. "He said he used the noise method. He just tapped the bell with a hammer a few times, and they flew out."
"I'm tickled. I think it looks great," said Steve Cronkright, head trustee. Cronkright grew up around the corner from the church, and is a long-time member. "We have needed to repair it for a long time. It looks great."