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The bell, used at Dundee Elementary School more than a century ago, will return to service

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Sandra Sumner (right) returned a 119-year-old bell to Dundee Elementary School earlier this month. She is joined by Janis Sander (center) and principal Reed Langdon.

When a family member dies, going through their possessions can be an emotional, often tedious process. For Sandra Sumner, it led to the discovery of a relic that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century in the city of Dundee.

Sumner's mother, Dorothy Billick Hadley, passed away and left behind an old school bell among her other possessions.

The Billicks lived on a sprawling patch of land on the hill near Dundee Elementary School and Billick Park is named for Sumner's maternal grandfather.

Somehow, over the years, Sumner's mother acquired the bell and kept it as a souvenir of Dundee's past.

It remains in good condition and still rings to this day, so Sumner returned it to the elementary school earlier this month.

"The Billicks went through the Dundee schools and my mother obtained it and it was very precious to her," Sumner, who now lives in Molalla, said. "She kept it and when she passed away I got it and found a way to get it back to the school."

The bell, mounted on a wooden block and rung with the pull of a string, is dated 1900.

Featuring a loud and unmistakable ring, it was used at the elementary school for a number of years before it fell into the Billicks' possession.

Dundee Elementary School principal Reed Langdon said he got in contact with Sumner recently with the help of a former principal and other community members, including Janis Sander.

The trio of Sumner, Sander and Langdon got together at Dundee Elementary in early October and examined the bell, along with old photos of the school and its students.

"We talked about the old school, what it looked like and tried to figure out how this bell was used," Langdon said. "There was an old church-style bell that was used to call the kids to school, so we're not sure where this smaller one was located or how it was used.

"It was really neat to explore the history of this school and the community. We got to examine the bell, which is more than 100 years old, and it really is like looking back through history."

The last time the bell was rang, before Langdon and company did on Oct. 10, may well have been nearly a century ago. Its original use around the school remains a mystery, but it has been returned to its original home after many decades.

Sumner said Janis Sander formerly lived across the street from the school on her family's property, which is now owned by the Chehalem Park & Recreation District, so her personal interest was heightened by having been through the school system in Dundee. The bell may well have been used back in her days of attending the school, but Sander isn't 100 percent sure.

Sander's perspective on the history of the city was invaluable, Langdon said, and he expressed his gratitude to Sumner for donating the bell. School officials plan to teach students about the history of their school with the bell as a visual and auditory tool; they might even find a permanent home for it on school grounds.

The ring echoes through nearly 12 decades of Dundee history.

"I think it was fun to see how the town has grown over the years," Langdon said. "Janis and Sandra talked about how the area used to be all plum trees, then they switched to grapes. We looked at pictures of the hillside when it was nothing but orchards and it was really impactful to see how this town has grown since this bell was first used."

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