Hundreds turn out to witness clock tower roof raising

Authored by Jim Langham on Jun 21, 2010

Local contractor Mike Schwartz can’t remember what he saw when he looked out from the top of a crane at the newly-constructed clock tower on Friday morning.
Schwartz, owner of Limberlost Construction Company, which is in charge of the building the tower, was hoisted to put the filial on the tower.
“At that point, I can’t even remember what I saw as I looked out,” said Schwartz. “I remember being surprised at all of the people that were watching. It was the first that I noticed how many people were there.
“In a sense, I felt like I could relax a little bit,” continued Schwartz. “Putting that roof on there was a big part of the icing on the cake. I had never been 160 feet in the air like that before.”
Schwartz said on Saturday that the top of the tower was put to the test on Friday evening when a powerful storm with high winds blew through the area.
“I went up there first thing to see how it looked after the storm,” said Schwartz. “Everything looked perfect.
“This coming week should he just as exciting with the placement of the clock hands and glockenspiel. It’s all coming together now,” added Schwartz.
Weldon Lehman sat beneath a shade tree in the Mennonite Church yard on Friday morning and gazed at the placing of the Swiss Clock Tower roof across the street.
Lehman was one of hundreds of residents who had gathered for the placement of the structure on a hot June morning, a day that will be recorded in local history accounts as one of the most outstanding events in Berne history.
For Lehman, gazing at the tower brought back memories of the first time he saw the clock tower, half way across the world in Bern, Switzerland.
“This is a chance of a lifetime,” said Lehman. “I saw the original tower in Bern, Switzerland. My mother was born there and I visited there. The one there has a bear pit with a live bear in it at the foot of the tower.”
Lehman said that “our” clock tower stands out more impressively because the original tower in Bern is now buried in the midst of several buildings.
“This is quite a moment for our city,” said Lehman.
There was a sense of awe and reverence amongst the crowd of people that gathered at the tower site at the announced time of 9 a.m. In addition to local residents, many that gathered in the Mennonite Church yard, parking lot, and along the street were from out of town. Others stood in various parts of town taking advantage of vantage points to watch the historical event.
Eli Sprunger, who has spent a big share of his 90 years in the Berne area, admitted that he was a bit skeptical about the tower construction at one time.
“I really didn’t think it would happen, but unusual things happen,” said Sprunger. “This is quite an achievement for our town. This is really something to see.”
“Aren’t we having fun,” commented Adams Central educator Judy Minger, wife of Berne businessman Brice Minger. “What a great day the Lord has given to us. This fills me with hope for Berne. What a wonderful heritage to bring everybody together.”
Once the roof was in place, many coming in to town reported seeing the structure from several miles north of Berne. The tower dedication will be a main event at this year’s Swiss Days at the end of July.
Bill McKean, who had served on the city council, noted that the journey to Friday’s special moment had been a long one, in a sense, but a very worthwhile effort of hard work.
“Sometimes you wait a long time for something that is worthwhile,” said McKean. “This committee worked hard and continued to move forward. Now we have the experience of a lifetime. We waited for a long time for this special moment.”
Word of the roof placement had spread early in the day. In the Palmer House Restaurant, it was the subject of humor and pride.
Local businessmen sat around and joked about selling front row seats while others talked of having a ticket raffle to raise money for the community.
In the end, the moment the roof touched the rim of the base tower it was a sacred chord in the Swiss heritage song of the community. There was a hushed reaction.
One elderly individual was heard to say, “I won’t be here that long to enjoy this, but I am so glad that my children, grandchildren, and generations to come will be able to be a part of what this does for our community.”
Dave Baumgartner, of the Berne Community Development Corporation, described his reaction to the event as, “emotional.”
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for eight years,” said Baumgartner. “At times we were not sure it would happen, but here it is. It’s fantastic.
“This was a community event and we thank the residents of our community for making this possible,” continued Baumgartner. “It took a lot of people to make this happen. It’s a very touching experience looking at this and realizing how many individual hearts are in this.”
Local musician Don Gerig referred to the completed tower as, “quite an imposing structure.”
“What a sight it will be from the north as people drive down US 27,” said Gerig. “This is just fantastic.”
But Gerig said that there are important things that have to happen “beyond the clock” in order to make its success total.
“People that come to see this will view it and then will want more. We need other things, Amish stores downtown, a restaurant across from the clock tower, Christmas stores, and things to do and see after they get here,” said Gerig.
“Now that Berne, Indiana, has a Swiss clock tower, people will look for more. To see this is impressive, but we need to get other things that are there for them once they’ve seen the clock. This is even more imposing than the one in Bern, Switzerland. I’ve been there and seen that. It stands out on its own. This is very incredible.”

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