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Bremerton's Keeper of the Bells Still on the Scene At Age 87

On the Sunday after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the carillon bells at Washington Mutual Bank in downtown Bremerton played “The Lord’s Prayer” and “God Bless America” — a computer told them to.

The Maas-Rowe carillon (there are no actual bells) have rung for almost 30 years now — thanks to Fred Schoneman. He said it was just a coincidence that the computer that runs the carillon chose those songs on America’s day of tragedy.

“I couldn’t have picked better music myself,” said Schoneman.

The carillon rings at the top and bottom of the hour from large speakers at the top of the bank. At noon and five p.m. they play two songs on weekdays and five on Sundays. Schoneman, the caretaker of the carillon bell system, said they usually play a mix of hymns and patriotic songs.

The system was installed at the Washington Mutual on Fifth Street on Dec. 24, 1971. Schoneman has been taking care of them and ensuring they play correctly ever since. He was also the chief fundraiser to have the system installed in the bank.

Schoneman said there used to be a Methodist Church in the space now filled by Washington Mutual, which then was Northwest Savings and Loan Association. He said when the bank bought the property, the church was torn down, bells and all.

Schoneman said after the bells were gone the neighborhood was too quiet, so he requested permission from the bank to raise money and have the carillon bell system installed on top of the building.

“It was so beautiful,” Schoneman said of the bells. “I liked music.”

Schoneman said the bank gave him a seventh-story janitor’s closet to use as a room for taking care of the system. He said he never had to pay any rent money or utility bills in the 30 years he’s been there.

“I want to compliment the bank for giving me the room for 30 years,” said Schoneman.

The system can be played on either an organ or a computer system. Schoneman said the carillon used to be played by music reels that individuals would donate because they wanted to hear certain songs. The reels were eventually transferred to cassettes and the bells were linked to a cassette player. Time and use caused the cassettes to wear out so the carillon bell sounds were put on the current computer system. Schoneman said the computer can still be bypassed and the “bells” played directly from the organ.

He said the system when first installed cost $17,500. He sets the present value at $60,000.

Schoneman said one of his best memories of the bells was having elementary school classes come up to see the bell room and play the organ.

“They (the children) got a kick out of hearing themselves play,” said Schoneman.

Schoneman, 87, worked for the city of Bremerton for 31 years before he retired as commissioner of public works. After he retired he became a Port of Bremerton commissioner. He was elected for that position seven times and served 14 years. He was last elected at age 83.

“Seven out of eight elections ain’t bad,” said Schoneman.

Meanwhile, Schoneman is looking for someone to come and play Christmas music this year on the bells’ 30th anniversary.

He is trying to recapture a magical night.

He said the first person to ever play the bells was the late Frank Honsowetz. Schoneman wanted Christmas music played since it was Christmas Eve, but he didn’t know how to play any. Honsowetz was blind and had to be led up to the organ room by his wife Marguerite.

Schoneman climbed out on the roof to hear the bells play and as Honsowetz played “Silent Night” at the stroke of 8 p.m., it began to snow.

“It was the most beautiful night,” said Schoneman.

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