The man behind the bells at Superior's Hope Church
At 83, Chuck Martin is the "grandfather" of the Billings Park congregation.
SUPERIOR — The bell at Hope Church in Billings Park rings out 10 times every Sunday morning, inviting members to gather. At one end of the rope is a former Catholic bell tower. At the other is church historian, boiler “whisperer” and enthusiastic bell ringer Chuck Martin, 83.
Martin, a Billings Park native, was instrumental in bringing the 25-foot bell tower to Hope Church in time for the church’s 100-year anniversary in 1991. It originally belonged to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Billings Park. When that church burned down in 1989, the brick bell tower survived unscathed.
With a little “debate,” Martin, who was chairman of the Hope Church Board at the time, was able to purchase the tower from the Catholic Diocese of Superior for $500. A congregation member with ties to Lakehead Constructors, Floyd Bernard, coordinated the move. Martin said a crew with a big semi truck brought the bell tower down North 21st Street in three pieces, stopping traffic for more than an hour in the process, and reassembled it beside Hope Church, which is located at 1827 Wyoming Ave. The bell atop it is one that used to ring above Hope Church before the building was remodeled in the late 1950s.
The bell was a source of controversy at one point. Martin said they had to stop ringing for a time because it was interfering with sermons at United Presbyterian Church, which is kitty-corner to Hope Church. The weekly chimes returned once the church schedules no longer clashed.
Youngsters at the church had been tasked with ringing the bell, but Martin said they didn't seem too interested. He took over the job to provide consistency.
“It’s just so sweet what he does and the loyalty," said Gayle Taylor, a member of the church ministry team.
The bell tower isn’t the only thing at the church Martin has the inside scoop on. Whenever the furnace starts acting up, he takes a look.
“He’s the one that knows our furnace, inside and out,” Taylor said. “He’ll come every day and turn that furnace on and off and check on it. He amazes me.”
There’s a reason for that, Martin said. He and the boiler joined the church about the same time. Martin became a member when he married his wife Jeanette (Sutherland) on Dec. 29, 1961. The furnace was installed not long after.
“They don’t build them like they used to, my dear,” said Martin, who was principal of schools in Proctor for 30 years.
The Billings Park native attended elementary school across the street from the church at Cooper, as did his wife, a longtime pianist and organist for the congregation. She was a year ahead of him in school, however.
“You know what that makes her?” Martin asked with a smile. “A cougar.”
The retired principal is a cornerstone of the church, according to pastor Jeremy Skaggs.
“I think every church has a Chuck, someone who God placed who really helps oversee everything” Skaggs said. “He’s just always been someone who’s really loved and cared for the church and also just wanted to see, make sure that the church is passed on.”
Taylor said she values Martin, both inside and outside of Hope Church.
“He’s someone who goes to nursing homes every Sunday and during the week. I mean, he’s just Mr. Faithful, and he visits more people than you can imagine .. He’s just a good person,” Taylor said.
In the multi-generational church, Martin is focused on empowering younger members and getting them involved. Skaggs called him the “grandfather of the church.”
“He could use his influence in a negative way, but Chuck never does. He uses it in a way to make sure it perpetuates the whole, the wholeness of the church community,” the pastor said. "It just shows you, too, watching Chuck and Jeanette, his wife, you’re never done with ministry.”
When Martin's father died at the age of 80, the Billings Park man gave him a ringing sendoff from Hope Church, 80 peals from the bell tower.
“He just told me this Sunday, he said to me 'When I die, ... I want to make sure the church rings the bell for every year of my life,'" Taylor said.
She promised to do so with a laugh, but wondered if the neighbors would object.
"Say he was 90 years old and we rang it, I said, 'Oh, won’t they be ... having a fit?' He said, ‘When you tell them it’s for Chuck Martin, they’ll know.'"