HERMISTON - More than 100 people gathered near City Hall to watch the breaking of the mold encasing Hermiston's centennial bell.

David Verdin of the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati handed sledgehammers to former mayor Frank Harkenrider and Mayor Bob Severson and told them to swing away.

After three heaves, Severson broke through the mold. Verdin said the company's bells had been broken by professional athletes and astronauts, and Severson's swing ranked with the best of them.

Verdin's crew began breaking away the bell's protective layers, first using jackhammers to crack through the hardened sand, then breaking away some of the last layers of dirt with their hands and finally with polishing tools until the bronze began to gleam.

"It's a good time to be mayor," Severson said as the crew from Verdin labored on the bell. "This bell will be here forever. I don't suppose many of us who are here today will be around for the next 100th anniversary."

Severson, who wore a watermelon top hat, said the city's willingness to grow and its population's rich diversity will ensure the city will last far into the future.

As the morning crowd dispersed, Verdin workers continued to polish the bell, getting it ready for its afternoon debut.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, people meandered by the mobile foundry to check the progress of the bell. However, Jamie Weems, 10, her brothers, Alexander, 9, and Matthew, 8, along with their mother, Paula Dudley, camped out to watch every movement of the bell crew.

"We watched the whole process. We know it's the same bell," Dudley said after her and her brood followed the city of Hermiston truck as it delivered the bell to McKenzie Park.

Dudley, who has only lived in the area for a year, said she was thrilled her children helped in passing the ingot to be put in the smelter.

"Some people don't realize they're making history and my kids can tell their grandkids, 'I helped make the bell,' " Dudley said. "When are you going to ever get the chance to do this again?"

The youngsters all sported The Verdin Company T-shirts, given to them by employees. And that's not all they got.

"This is part of the mold," Jamie Weems said as she held out a piece of compacted sand.

Ralph Jung, one of the bell casters, said the bell will ring in the key of E.

"If you take too much material out, you lose the tone and you can't put it back," he said between the rough grinding and sandblasting process.

A city-wide church service held at McKenzie Park included the singing of patriotic songs. A medley performed by a community choir sang "let freedom ring," words from "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which appropriately echoed Verdin's words throughout the weekend.

The vice president of the foundry company talked about the prominent role bells play in society, including wedding bells, funeral bells and The Liberty Bell. Verdin said they ring joyously to mark new beginnings, or toll in remembrance.

"They're very significant in our everyday life," Verdin said.

Ivan Anderholm, Hermiston Parks and Recreation Department director, invited everyone at the park to ring the bell.

"With a pull of the rope, we dedicate this bell to the past, present and future residents of Hermiston," he said.

The Hermiston Centennial celebration comes to a crescendo Tuesday evening at McKenzie Park with the unveiling of the Centennial Bell Tower and Fountain. The event will include food and entertainment.

"We have one more event to pull off and I think we can do it," said Jackie Myers, chairperson of the centennial committee.

People will be treated to a piece of Centennial Cake, a 4-foot by 12-foot monstrosity being made by a crew of six led by Erma Neilsen.

"I was quite excited. I helped with the 75th anniversary and didn't think I'd live long enough to help with the 100th," she said with a laugh.

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