Local man funds bell tower construction

The McFarland Bell Tower stands quietly on Sunday. The Bell Tower construction continues as the school year proceeds. Erica Magda

The McFarland Bell Tower stands quietly on Sunday. The Bell Tower construction continues as the school year proceeds. Erica Magda

By Missy Smith

Richard McFarland is the kind of man who gives back to the community in any way he can. He donated a significant amount of money to the construction of the ACES library, he awards two scholarships each year to students with a farm background, and now, he donated about $1.5 million toward the construction of the new carillon bell tower on the South Quad.

Humbly, McFarland shifts any credit or attention to his late wife, Sally, who still inspires him to do great things, like making the community a better place for students and residents alike.

McFarland remembers fondly his time at the University a few decades ago, memories that can be jogged by the familiar tones of “the old law buildings” or the Altgeld bells. It has been more than four years since McFarland first proposed building a new bell tower in his wife’s memory, and as of next spring, his dream will finally be a reality.

“I am very pleased and very humbled that we have gotten all of the support we have,” McFarland said. “I have been very blessed and have had the good fortune to help. We are only a few months away from seeing it completed.”

McFarland and Sally initially wanted to donate the funds to build a new Presbyterian chapel on campus, but plans never got off the ground. In 2003, shortly after discussion about what will now be the McFarland Memorial Bell Tower began, Sally passed away due to ovarian cancer. The bell tower, which was started this past summer, will be finished and dedicated to Sally this coming spring.

The McFarland Memorial Bell Tower will have 49 bells, cast in the Netherlands and transported to Champaign to be placed in the tower. They will be played by remote computer chips and programmed with 500 songs. The bells can also be played by keyboard, and potentially by hand in the future with proper funding.

McFarland is gracious to everyone who helped, especially those alumni who donated their money, time and skills to make the construction happen. From the support of trustees to engineers and key coordinators, all of the details have been planned out and are running on schedule.

Don Kojich, associate vice president for marketing and communications for the University of Illinois Foundation, said that the project has been in the works for about 10 years, but started as a renovation of the Altgeld bells. Kojich stresses that the new bell tower will not take the place of the current bells in Altgeld Hall, and both will continue to ring, though it is not known in what capacity.

“From an engineering perspective, renovating Altgeld hall was not feasible,” Kojich said. “We were going to put 49 bells in the tower which only holds 15 or 16 right now.”

After the plans for renovation were scrapped, University officials then discussed a place for a new bell tower, one that will become a staple of campus life in the future. Plans to expand and create new quads had been in the works, and the McFarland Memorial Bell Tower will become the intersection point of the new quads.

McFarland said on other campuses, the bell tower has become something of a meeting point for students and faculty, and envisions something similar for the University.

“This is something I think can be very satisfying for many individuals for years to come,” McFarland said. “The McFarland Memorial Bell tower will be here 150 years from now because it can stand the test of time.”

However, some students are not too happy about their ultimate Frisbee grounds being encroached on, or the spending of funds that could otherwise be used for more dire renovations.

Emily Puchalski, junior in LAS, said she feels the tower might be in the way and limit the activity on the South Quad.

“I don’t really see the purpose of the tower,” Puchalski said. “But I guess it will look nice. It is a nice idea, but there are other things on campus that should command more attention.”

“It’s interesting to see how much the campus has changed,” Kojich said. “I can remember when the Hallene Gateway was not there, and now it’s one of our landmark icons. It wasn’t here 15 years ago. We are always interested in beautifying and enhancing the campus experience.”

McFarland said he is grateful for everything he has accomplished in this lifetime, and he has hope for more to come.

“I am kind of just a messenger for all these things,” McFarland said. “Sally has been a big inspiration to me and to others, and I just want to thank everyone who has helped by getting involved and giving back to the community. I feel like I am living up to Sally’s legacy by giving back.”