Festival of the Bells Story: "The Early Years"
As Told by John Levo W8KIW Local Community leader and Amateur Radio Enthusiast.
The Festival of the Bells is actually the by-product of the 1976 National Bicentennial. Mayor Betty Bishop asked Richard VanZant and I to co-chair the event which was named the leading small city Bicentennial celebration in Ohio.
Following it, Dr. Lawrence Odland (Liz’s father) approached the editor of the newspaper Jim Hardin with the idea to hold an annual festival capitalizing upon Hillsboro’s Bell Foundry and how those bells are found around the world. I was the president of the Chamber of Commerce at the time and Jim approached me for my thoughts about the Chamber sponsoring such an event. The Board thought it was worth pursuing if I would chair a committee of people from the community to put it on. And the rest is history.
The Committee consisted of some people who worked on the 1976 Committee so we had some experience under our belts. (People like Dorothy Hodson, Pam Limes, Ron Hennison, Jim Ferrell and Kay Rittenhouse. Pauline Donally and Rick Williams were added later). It was determined such a festival would be geared to bringing people downtown opposed to the fairgrounds. Therefore downtown merchants would be exposed to out of town visitors. Booth rentals were first made available to local groups to give them an opportunity to raise funds. Entertainment was to be by local bands, singers, and other performers. We had a teen dance with a disc jockey from WLW one evening and a square dance on another evening. The Hillsboro Fire Department conducted a parade.
Current Committee Insights:
Volunteer Webmaster, John Willis
Many things have changed about the festival through the years from the types of entertainment, rides, various arts and crafts local and regional alike. To the events planned and put on by local groups and school organizations. A few location changes occurred. Once out to the fairgrounds and in recent years, Southern State Community College for the 2018/19 year. These changes were appropriate at the time but didn't seem to fit the original intent to bring people to the downtown Hillsboro area thus why the festival has returned to its original place the following year. Even with all the changes over the years, the core principle for the committee remained the same as to put on the festival with the benefit of the community in mind and to bring everyone together from near and far to the downtown area of Hillsboro to enjoy the entertainment, celebrate our community, the fellowship, and freedoms that come from the founding of our nation.