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Originally published Friday, October 28, 2011 at 8:25 PM

Denny descendant rings UW's historic bell

Brewster Denny, former dean of the Evans School and the great-grandson of the University of Washington's co-founder, rang the Denny Bell on campus for the 50th time Friday.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

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He's had this date on his mind for 50 years, and on Friday afternoon, Brewster Denny got a chance to fill that long-standing wish: To ring the Denny Bell at the University of Washington in the school's 150th year.

Denny, founder and former dean of the Evans School of Public Affairs and the great-grandson of UW co-founder Arthur Denny, is 87 years old. Because he gets around in a wheelchair, he's no longer able to climb the narrow stairs to the belfry.

But his enthusiasm for ringing the Denny Bell is as strong as ever. On Friday, surrounded by his family and university notables, he grabbed the bell rope and pulled so hard his wheelchair rocked back and forth. The bell's peals reverberated throughout campus.

"It's a rich sound, rich and full," Denny said. It's very strong."

His wife, Patricia, daughter Maria, and grandchildren Ella and Jacob also took turns pulling the bell rope. "Isn't that a beautiful sound?" Maria asked.

The bell dates to 1859. It was cast in steel in Troy, N.Y., then shipped around the Horn to Seattle. In 1861, it was installed in the belfry of the Territorial University, then located in downtown Seattle.

Brewster Denny's great-grandparents, Arthur and Mary Denny, were founders of both the UW and Seattle. At the time, Seattle was a remote outpost — a rough timber town with a population of about 250.

The first university building stood above the town, on Denny Knoll — where the Fairmont Olympic Hotel now stands — and the bell served as the town bell, often used to warn ships during periods of fog.

When the University of Washington was moved to its current location, the bell was moved, too. It is now rung primarily during homecoming.

In 1961, Brewster Denny returned to Washington state after a career in Washington, D.C., to organize and then become the dean of the Graduate School of Public Affairs, later named the Evans School. His first year back — which happened to be the UW's 100th anniversary — he was invited to ring the bell. And he's been ringing it every year since.

Former governor, U.S. senator and high-school classmate Dan Evans was on hand for Friday's bell-ringing. "I think this is a great tradition," Evans said. "It celebrates his 50th, and the (Evans) School's 50th."

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com

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