Not just any man can say he has had a protracted relationship with a bell — but Robert Pennington, ’49, is not just any man.
Pennington first rang the Knox bell in 1937 during the College’s centennial celebrations.
“I think it was after a football game,” Pennington recalled. “I must have been between nine and eleven. I pulled on the rope, and, of course, as the bell came back, it pulled me right off the ground. My dad caught me.”
Pennington, whose father, J. Wilson Pennington, served as Knox’s auditor for 32 years, lived his childhood with the college as a gravitational center. At four, he began attending sporting events, and by his early adolescence, he was taking art classes at the school. Following a tour as an infantryman in Italy during World War II, Pennington returned to Knox to study art.
He will return for Homecoming this weekend to ring Old Main’s bell, officially beginning the Community Pumphandle, which hopes to draw together Knox and the larger Galesburg area in celebrating the College’s 175th anniversary. It will be a family affair since Pennington’s grandson, senior Robert Cassens, will join him in doing the honors.
“Bobby [Cassens] approached me a couple of weeks ago and told me the story of his grandfather,” Director of Alumni Programs Carol Brown, ’99, who is planning the bell ringing ceremony, said. “Bobby wondered if there was a way we could help his grandfather relive this wonderful memory.”
Cassens looks forward to this opportunity, which seems to have as much to do with a family legacy as it does with College history.
“It’s going to be an awesome experience,” Cassens said. “I’m excited to do something [my grandfather] did 75 years ago and probably not many people have done since. I don’t have words to describe that one.”
Cassens, a creative writing major, said that sharing an alma mater has brought his grandfather and him closer together.
“I didn’t even know he went here when I got accepted to Knox,” Cassens said. “I didn’t hear any of these stories or even know that he went to Knox until after I was already accepted.”
When Cassens pledged as a Tau Kappa Epsilon, Pennington surprised him further by revealing that he too is a TKE. Since then, grandfather and grandson have compared their Knox experiences, and whenever Pennington returns to Knox, he is eager to point out the many shifts in architecture and culture.
“It’s kind of eerie sometimes,” Cassens said. “Then sometimes it also has an aura around it of tradition, of being a part of something larger than yourself, of being able to carry those on. It’s a major excitement.”
Pennington admits that a few things may have changed since he was a kid at Knox’s centennial, but he is prepared to adapt.
“For the bell, I’ll need to get some instructions,” Pennington said. “I’m sure it’s all changed since the early days. That’s a long time back.”