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New Horizons Receives 19th Century Bell for Graduates

Last May, Chip Gregory, Principal of New Horizons Learning Center, received an exciting phone call from Pud Kearns, who has long been involved with Greenville ISD and serves on the New Horizons Advisory Board. “I know where a bell is,” she said.

Though New Horizons originated from a state grant and was originally designed specifically for at-risk students, or even students who chose to drop out, this particular campus has evolved to the point of accepting students with many different educational backgrounds, needs, talents, and goals. While the short-term goal is high school graduation, New Horizons is determined to provide a sound education that will assist students as they progress in their individual higher education goals. Truly a remarkable, nurturing environment, New Horizons directly assists all students and offers lessons for wherever life leads.

At New Horizons Learning Center, a student is considered a graduate immediately after they complete all required course work. There are two graduation ceremonies held throughout the year, one in November and one in June. Students who graduate before or in between ceremonies are invited to return to receive their diploma and cap and gown, but “it just doesn’t capture the excitement of the actual moment when each student finds out they’re finished,” said Kearns. “It bothered Chip that nothing was done to help the student celebrate the special moment at the time it happened,” she continued.

One evening, while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Gregory watched as a bell rang whenever the angel got its wings. He thought that a bell might be the answer he’d been looking for. The following Advisory Board meeting, Gregory mentioned his epiphany to the board. “He wanted one that could be heard all over the school so that everyone would know what had just happened,” said Kearns. “I called Mr. Gregory and told him I knew exactly where a bell was and that he wouldn’t believe it” she said.

The bell donated by Kearns dates back to 1894 and belonged to the late Jack Horton who purchased it and one other bell during a scrap metal drive during WWII. He bought the bells for a penny per pound and hauled them home. One of the bells ended up at Club Lake, where it called several generations of Hortons off of the lake and home for dinner. That bell remains at Club Lake to this day. The second bell Horton purchased, now housed at New Horizons Learning Center, was stored first at the Horton Milling Company, and then later moved to his brother, Hal Horton’s, warehouse in Bonham, Tex. where it stayed for many years.

When Hal sold his business and warehouse and moved to San Antonio, he gave the bell to his niece Pud Kearns, who hoped to use it as an attraction at Mary of Puddin Hill. After attempts to find a place for the bell at Mary of Puddin Hill and Greenville High School fell through, the bell sat in storage at GHS for nearly 15 years before it was rediscovered by Principal, Heath Jarvis, three years ago.

In late May, the bell was installed at New Horizons just in time for the formal Graduation Ceremony, where it rang 28 times for each student receiving a diploma that day. “My dad would have been proud,” said Jack Horton, Jr.

A plaque was added to the bell that said it was given in honor of Jack Horton, who passed away in July before learning the fate of the bell. Present at the plaque ceremony were Pud Kearns, along with the rest of the New Horizons Advisory Board, Jack Horton, Jr., Judy Horton Newton and her son Brian.

The bell spent over 70 years looking for a place to ring. Now it rings throughout the year to celebrate accomplishment and education. The Horton bell finally has a home and reason to ring. “The historic value and significance of the bell donated by Mrs. Kearns serves to inspire and motivate our students,” said Principal Chip Gregory, “I am sure that the ringing of the bell for each of our graduates is a tradition that will continue for many years to come” he said.