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School Bell Sparks Disharmony In Small Michigan Town

September 24, 1986

ADA, Mich. (AP) _ For years, kids could ring a cast-iron school bell whenever they bought a sundae at the Schoolhouse ice cream parlor in this little village. But the sound wasn’t music to everyone’s ears.

The 19th century bell in a belfry atop the building has created so much disharmony that shop owner Sophia Theodore faces a possible jail stint because Ada Township officials think it violates a 1980s noise ordinance.

″The people of Ada have a right to ring this bell,″ says Theodore, 24. ″All the little kids who come want to ring the bell, and now they can’t.″

Theodore, armed with a petition signed by 1,500 supporters, has silenced the bell temporarily while she fights her battle.

″I could go to jail and I just feel like it’s really dumb,″ she said Wednesday.

Theodore faces an Oct. 27 trial. A violation of the township noise ordinance carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

″In effect, what we’re doing is asking the court what the definition of obnoxious is,″ township Trustee Jordan Sheperd said.

The bell battle has caused considerable discord in this village, located about 15 miles east of Grand Rapids and best known as the headquarters of the giant Amway Corp.

The ice cream parlor is in a century-old, one-room schoolhouse that was moved downtown in the 1960s to preserve part of village history. The building, painted fire-engine red, has a tall tower that houses the bell.

The building became an ice cream parlor 11 years ago, and Theodore said she continued the tradition of allowing customers to ring the bell when she bought the place in 1984.

Imogene Vader rang the bell to summon students when she was a teacher in the old school. Now she’s a township trustee, and wants the bell silenced.

″I’m delighted the schoolhouse was preserved,″ she said. ″I’m glad they have the bell. But to ring it whenever somebody buys a cone or sundae, I can see where it can grate on people’s nerves.″

Others say only one or two people have complained about the bell. Harry Basscher, a retiree who lives close to the Schoolhouse, said his neighbor’s lawn mower makes more noise than the bell.

″I kind of enjoy it now and then,″ he said.

But his neighbors, Bill and Lillian Fryover, have complained several times.

″It is annoying. Did you ever have dogs barking when you tried to sleep at night?″ he said.