MT. VERNON — When Jim Freeman was in elementary school he had an important job at the church where his father, the late Z. Miller Freeman, was pastor.
Back in the day at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church where Mr. Freeman preached from 1944-1947, Jim rang the bell every Sunday morning calling people to church.
The job was fitting since he was the pastor’s son, always at church and was a youngster.
Every Sunday morning before he left home to go ring the bell his mother reminded him not to get his clothes dirty.
“What my mother did not know was that it was impossible to ring the bell and not get your clothes dirty,”Jim said. “I had to climb up a narrow stairway and get into the attic to ring the bell. No adult would want to do that, so they sent a kid to do it. It was just a dusty old stairwell and I didn’t mind it.”
Jim said when he reached the top of the tower, he was in the attic of the church.
“I remember as much about the rope to ring the bell as the bell,” Jim said. “I had to jump a little to reach the rope and then hang on until I finished, jumping back up each time it rang.”
He said the bell ringing was successful as church people started arriving.
“They rode in pick-up trucks, horse and wagons, T-models, cars and farm trucks,” Jim said.
He remembers the day in 1945 when he was riding his bicycle toward the church and he heard the bell ringing. That was unusual to him because he was the only bell ringer.
“As I got closer to the church, Laura Mae York was out in the middle of the old dirt road, just a ‘shouting and waving her arms”, Jim said. “The war is over,” she was shouting. Her two sons would be coming home from World War II.
The family moved when Rev. Freeman was called to another church after a few years at Mt. Vernon.
In 1958, the old Mt. Vernon church building was dismantled to make way for a new building.
As the facility was torn down some items went to church members who had a special interest in them.
“I had some attachments and feelings about the bell,” Jim said. “And I remember it being much bigger,” he sighed.
The church bell, which was purchased by the Freeman family (distant relatives) when the first church was built, was moved to the family’s farm about three miles from Mt. Vernon Church.
For the next 55 years, the bell was kept on a fence post at the farm.
“The owners had passed away and left it to their son in Nashville, Tenn. and after he passed away they left it to a friend and she put it up for sale,” pastor, Rev. Scott Courtney said.
Years later after Jim retired from his job, he returned to the Mt. Vernon community. He said he would pass by the place where the old bell was on the fence post.
“I really felt sad for it,” he said. “It went from a lofty place in the church bell chamber to sitting on a post at a farm house. It had even quit ringing as there was no farm hands to come to dinner.”
In the recent past, Jim was traveling out Whiteside Road and noticed a For Sale sign at the property where the church bell was still on the fence post.
“I thought well it is now or never since it was up for sale,” he said. “I can do some hard things, but if you need to do the near impossible, you call Tommy Freeman (another member of Mt. Vernon church).”
Tommy made several calls to the realtor and learned the closing on the property was in two days and they had to move fast if they were going to get the bell back to Mt. Vernon.
“We had to prove the bell once belonged to the church,” Jim said.
After listening to the church’s oral history and seeing other documents, Tommy proved the bell was the one from Mt. Vernon and he recovered the bell from the property owner.
“As soon as Tommy had possession of the bell he backed his truck and pulled the bell up post and all,” Jim said.
The Freeman’s Sunday School class was instrumental in building the new bell tower in front of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church.
The tower connects the Family Life Center to the sanctuary door of the church with a covered walkway.
A formal dedication ceremony was conducted in November. It is dedicated to Tommy’s late wife.
“Years and years from now, I hope the bell is still helping members of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church to celebrate very special occasions,” Jim said.