American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, Inc.

The granting of an Honorary Life Membership in the AGEHR is reserved " ... for those who have made outstanding contributions to the art of handbell ringing.  This status is to be deemed the highest honor which the AGEHR can bestow, and is to be reserved for individuals of the highest caliber."
Book of Motions - #0015, 6/75

The following deceased individuals had been granted this highest honor.  A brief biographic sketch, including the year each was honored and the year of death, may be seen by clicking on the name.  A photograph may also be available.
Bessie B. Erb Ellen Jane Lorenz Porter Helen Runkle
Lawrence Fink Willard Markey Ronald J. Schink
Betty Garee W. D. (Mac) McKeehan Frederick Sharpe
Dr. Robert Hieber Marvin  Reecher Margaret Shurcliff

Much of the information has been gleaned from the writings of Martha Lynn Thompson, National Secretary of AGEHR during the early 1990's.  Other has been gleaned from "In Memoriam" articles and interviews in OVERTONES, and personal knowledge of the web page designer.

The people who have received this highest honor of AGEHR contributed greatly to the formation and development of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, and their influence is still seen and felt throughout the organization and the world of handbells.  In many cases, their work results in the training and raising of new leadership to carry on their work.  They are no longer with us, but their contributions and influences remain.

.Marvin E. Reecher

Marvin E. Reecher served four years as the AGEHR Vice President, then succeeded Robert Hieber to become the Guild's third President, serving from 1963-67. He was named Honorary Life Member in 1967.
Ronald J."Ron" Schink

Ronald J. Schink had the dubious honor of being appointed National Festivals Chairman by eight AGEHR Presidents, beginning with Richard Litterst in 1967 and continuing through the presidencies of Robert Ivey, Donald Allured, Nancy Poore Tufts, James Salzwedel, Mary McCleary, David Davidson, and Mary Kettelhut!  From 1967 through 1985 he traveled thousands of miles visiting campuses and convention centers, selecting sites for National Festivals, and negotiating contracts for rooms, meals, classrooms, and social activities at the Festival sites.
He also handled all the registrations for the Festivals, and, from his home in Napoleon, Ohio, he did the tremendous amount of paper work required for all these responsibilities!

To many of us, he was the one who, year after year, welcomed us at the Festival registration desk!  Ron became well-known for making things seem to run smoothly no matter what unexpected obstacles got in the way.  He also organized and was the tour guide for the Guild's 25th Anniversary Tour to England in 1979, and in 1984 he organized and led a tour for adult ringers on a Guild-sponsored ringing tour of Europe.

Ron organized his first bell choir in 1961 and became a member of AGEHR in 1961.  In 1962 he was Chairman of Area V and from 1963-1967 served as Festival Chairman for Area V.  When his term as Area V's Festival Chairman ended, he began his 18 years of continuous service as National Festivals Chairman!

For his service to AGEHR, and especially for his many years as National Festivals Chairman, Ron was made an Honorary Life Member in November of 1988.

In the May 1993 issue of OVERTONES, Mary Kettelhut wrote In Memoriam:

"AGEHR has lost a friend and worker.  Ron Schink passed away on February 25th.

"At the funeral service held for Ron, a tribute was ready by Pastor Michael Rothgery, a former ringer.  He said in part, 'Emmanuel Lutheran Church (Ron's church of service for 32 years) is known from the White House to Hawaii and from England to Vienna because of Ron.  Ron took the young men of this congregation who may have never seen farther than the corn fields of Henry County, and showed the the World.  ....

"We of AGEHR extend our heartfelt sympathy to Nancy and the Family.  It was a privilege for us to know Ron and to work with him. He will be missed, but his good works will be remembered by all who knew and loved him.  He played a big part in uniting people in this musical art."

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Margaret Shurcliff

Margaret Shurcliff was the first person of record in the United States to own a set of English handbells.  At the end of the 19th-century, Margaret and her father, Dr. Arthur Nichols, had journeyed to England, apparently several times, for the purpose of restoring the tower bells of Boston's Old North Church to their original use.  While in England, the Nichols became change-ringing enthusiasts.  Margaret was the first woman from America to ring a peal on tower bells, as well as two peals on handbells.  She returned home with her own set of Whitechapel handbells in 1902.

She introduced numerous people to handbell ringing, began the first "community group" in Boston, and started the Christmas Eve tradition of playing carols outside on Beacon Hill.  The contagious joy of ringing spread enough that in 1937 ringers met at Mrs. Shurcliff's home to form the New England Guild of English Handbells, with Mrs. Shurcliff becoming its first president.

By 1954, handbells had spread beyond the New England states, so the idea of an American Guild was proposed, along with the new concept of a handbell festival.  .  On Feb. 6, 1954, three members of the New England Guild met at the home of Mrs. Shurcliff to make plans for the first handbell festival, and at a meeting on May 24th of that year, Mrs. Shurcliff became the first president of AGEHR.  Another member present at that meeting, Mrs. Bessie Erb, went on to become the second president.

The purpose of both Guilds was to exchange music (none was published at that time), exchange ideas and techniques, and "free" ringing together.  The extent of their formal meetings was to meet one evening each spring for supper, business meeting, and a public concert.  AGEHR still carries on these traditions.

Richard Litterst wrote: "There was a surging desire to honor Margaret Shurcliff in appropriate ways. A major recognition had already been granted: Her hand, holding a handbell, became enshrined in our Guild Seal and on our membership pins."

Margaret Schurcliff  was named Honorary Life Member posthumously in 1998. She died in 1959, only four years after forming the Guild.

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AGEHR  --  "Uniting People Through a Musical Art."

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