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This 272-year-old bell had been reported missing March 16, from First Church of Christ, Scientist, on La Cañada Drive. Church member Jane Martin sits behind the bell, which showed up this week.

They may not have noticed their 272-year-old bell missing right away, but they're well aware it’s been returned — and the members at First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Green Valley sure are happy about it.

The foot-tall bronze bell was donated by a congregation member more than 30 years ago and had hung in front of the church surrounded by trees and a fountain, visible from La Cañada Drive.

On March 16, members noticed it was missing. They reported it to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and for two months the bell's location was unknown.

On Wednesday, a Tucson couple drove to Green Valley to return it and tell the story of how it came into their possession on Tucson’s east side.

Junkyard buy

Ingrid Bergman says her husband, Ray Huthoefer, came home with the bell about a week ago after purchasing it for $150 at a junkyard on the outskirts of Tucson. Bergman said she didn't know the name of the business, but said her husband loves antiques and often goes out rummaging for anything from old cars to a little manual washing machine decorating their front yard.

Bergman and Huthoefer didn't know anything about the bell but found "1747” imprinted on it and went online to do research. It wasn’t long before Bergman found a Green Valley News article about the theft in March. She said she knew they couldn't keep the bell knowing it had been stolen from a church, and told her husband they needed to return it right away.

Bergman said she must have called the church 20 times over the next two days trying to let members know they had their bell. With no answer, they decided to head to Green Valley on Wednesday during the church's reading room hours and hope someone was there to accept it.

Halfway to Green Valley, the church called Bergman and let them know they had been having phone issues. They were relieved to find out that didn't stop the couple and that the bell was already on its way home.

Bergman and Huthoefer didn't ask for compensation but the church insisted on reimbursing them the $150 they paid for the bell because it was the right thing to do, Martin said.

"Absolutely I feel good," Bergman said of the trip to Green Valley to return the bell. "Maybe it gave me a marker to heaven."

It’s home!

"It was good rejoicing and gratitude, and gratitude," Martin said when the church's clerk emailed members to let them know the bell had been returned.

"Last night was a church meeting, so that was the topic of the meeting, 'Oh, the bell is back,'" Martin said with a laugh Thursday.

Despite the good news, Martin said she is still disappointed that the world is in a state where people would steal.

"We expect people to be civil, to be gracious to, you know, to be loving one another," Martin said. "Living according to the principles of whatever you know your God is. To live according to those principles and it's just disappointing when that doesn't happen."

It remains a mystery to Martin why anyone would steal the church's bell, but she hopes that whoever took it learned something from the incident. Whether they do or don't, they still got a lot of prayer from Martin and other members, she said with a laugh.

The bell, which was heard when children would ring it as they passed by, left a pleasing and distinct sound, Martin said with fondness. But while the bell is back, and will likely be secured with welded bolts, that distinct sound may be gone forever. The clapper that hung inside is missing.

The roughly 85-pound bell sits on an office chair, and with a smile and a wave Martin says she never had any doubt it would find its way back home.

"There's just a sense of, because we were expecting to get it back, well, it's an answered prayer," she said. "It's not right to lose it and it was right for us to get it back."

Bell’s history

A member donated the bell when the church was built more than 30 years ago. It has hung there since 1987. It didn’t serve any ceremonial purpose, which is one reason its disappearance wasn’t immediately noticed.

Members had little information on its history, but that only stoked their curiosity three decades ago when they came to own it. They formed the Bell Identification Committee, which led them to Royal Eijsbouts, a foundry in Asten, Holland.

Royal Eijsbouts informed the committee in a Jan. 15, 1987, letter that the bell had been cast in 1747, but beyond that, all the company could do was speculate.

“Where this bell has been cast and by whom cannot be answered,” the letter continued. “The style directs somewhat to English thinking, but not more than that.”

The letter writer, Dr. Andre Lehr, went on to say that similar bells were often used as ship bells, “though also in small churches, stately homes, etc.” He said the inscription B.S.S. on the bell is “difficult to explain,” and that it likely wasn't the foundry, but rather an owner, the ship or the house to which it was attached.

Despite what little they knew of its history, the bell never became a focal point of the congregation. It was actually the small bell’s simplicity that spoke the sweetest sound to the church, Martin said.

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732

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