OAK RIDGE (WATE) – It’s a familiar sound to the people of Oak Ridge – ringing from the International Friendship Bell, a symbol of peace and unity in the years following World War II.
“This is a landmark for the city of Oak Ridge,” Alan Tatum, Friendship Bell Advisory Committee co-chair, said. “It’s been here for 20 years and has deep significance. It represents the peace that comes out of war and the bond that the nations of the United States and Japan formed in the years following the war.”
The pavilion housing the iconic monument sustained extensive water damage and had to be demolished in 2014. The bell itself remains in Bissell Park, but is missing its most unique feature: the ability to ring.
“There were a number of us who said we have to do something about this,” Pat Postma, Friendship Bell Advisory Committee co-chair, said. “This is too important not to take care of.”
A group of volunteers came together to restore the Friendship Bell, working to raise $750,000 to preserve the landmark. A portion of that money will finance transporting the bronze cast bell, which weighs 8,000 pounds.
The Friendship Bell Committee hopes to construct a new home for the 7 feet tall, 5 feet wide monument.
Shigeko Uppulur played a lead role in bringing the four-ton bell to Tennessee more than 20 years ago.
“This is a peace monument,” Uppulur said. “The idea was to have an everlasting peace monument. We are looking for that peace and that is the one big hope for this.”
Like many others, she looks forward to giving the bell a forever home.
“It is going to be so beautiful,” Postma said. “It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to give something back to your town that will be permanent and a central focal point.”
Committee members said the upgrades will not only enhance A.K. Bissell Park but will likely bring more tourism to Oak Ridge.
“It’s always disappointing when you go through a difficult period such as we went through with this pavilion and having to demolish the old structure which had great significance to our community but it’s also a great opportunity to have something new and exciting and beneficial not only to the city of Oak Ridge but also the region,” Tatum said.
$700 thousand have already been raised for this project. At least another $50,000 is needed to begin construction of the new pavilion.
To donate, you can write a check to Oak Ridge Rotary Community Fund, with “For Bell Project” on the memo line, and send it to:
Attention: David Carr
Oak Ridge Rotary Community Fund
PO Box 6331
Oak Ridge, TN 37831-3886
You can also make an online donation.