The bell tolls for thee – health care workers.
Since March 29 last year, David Beemer has been ringing the bell in downtown Bainbridge Island at the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church. He’s done it for a minute every night at 8 to honor front-line medical workers fighting the COVID-19 epidemic. He plans to stop on the one-year anniversary of that date.
Beemer, who lives across the street from the church, started getting help from Jim Macpherson last summer. He didn’t ask for help because of coronavirus concerns. “Particularly in the beginning when everyone was isolating so completely, (it) didn’t seem like we should have anyone else going out,” he said.
Beemer said he didn’t start it to honor any one individual, although he does have a niece who is a nurse in Orlando, Fla., who contracted COVID but is fine now.
Beemer said the bell, which can be heard across Eagle Harbor, rings about 60 times in that minute. He said reaction from the public has been supportive, especially last summer when people would sit nearby and wait for it to ring out.
He really found out how popular it was when he sent out a Facebook announcement saying he was thinking about reducing it to once a week. “When we talked about ending the nightly ringing, there was a bit of an outcry” to keep doing it, he said. “A yoga group member somewhere in Winslow said their group always uses the ringing to pause for reflection.”
Beemer said there were times when it was dark and cold that he really didn’t want to do it. But “I realized that there are plenty of health care workers and other frontline folks who are getting weary of COVID-19 – not a time to be selfish.”
The bell, which is believed to have been installed in the 1890s, normally rings on Sunday mornings for church. Couples who are married in the church sometimes ring it after their ceremony. It’s also been rung during a hunger walk and high school graduation during COVID because the usual events could not happen due to restrictions.
Macpherson was his “standby Quasimodo” in early summer, but took over in July when Beemer went on vacation. They started officially sharing the duties in mid-August.
Macpherson also has family in health care. his brother was a paramedic and his wife a nurse, both retired now in Durango, Colo. “I am very sensitive to the role of health care workers during the pandemic. I often think of Max and Cathy when I ring the bell,” he said.
Macpherson said when Beemer was ringing the bell, he would often ring a large cowbell, “So it was a natural for me to fill in when Dave was gone and then work out a split in the duties.”
He became somewhat of a celebrity once while ringing the bell. “One time a sailing couple from the San Juan Islands happened to hear the bell from the nearby restaurant where they were told of the tradition by the wait staff. So they returned the next evening to film the ringing and interviewed me for a podcast they post of their sailing adventures.”
Macpherson said he has enjoyed the experience. “I consider it to be an honor to ring the bell in support of all those who have worked so hard to fight the pandemic,” he said.
There have been some malfunctions with the bell. A rope-wire connection broke and volunteer John Peterson fixed it. But it broke again about a month ago so Peterson is designing a better pulley system for the bell cradle. In the meantime, Beemer and Macpherson are ringing a smaller bell.
Beemer said the one-year mark seems like a good time to stop. “Although we are still within the pandemic, we feel that we have tolled and toiled through the depth of discontent … and hopefully offered some cheer to the world around Winslow,” he said.