Towering 168 feet about campus, the Henningson Memorial Campanile is ostensibly the most iconic symbol of the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. Though hundreds of campus-goers walk past it every day, most students would not be able to recognize it by its official name.
The Henningson Memorial Campanile, referred to simply as “the bell tower” in UNO vernacular, has become an integral part of campus legacy.
First proposed in 1987 by the Board of Regents, many believed that there was no need for the bell tower. There was fear that it would remove parking spaces, cause unnecessary campus noise and congest traffic.
Despite these concerns, the bell tower was approved. Aided by a donation from Margre Henningson-Durham and her husband Charles W. Durham, ground for the tower was broken in May of 1988 and bells were ordered to be imported from France.
Fourty-seven bronze bells later, the construction now stands as a unique and defining feature of the UNO campus.
“It’s so unusual to find a real campanile. There are a few in Iowa and one in Lincoln,” said James Jonson, a music professor. “You can see it from so many places in the city, and if you’re in the area, you can hear it. It’s such an icon.”
Johnson, a professor of music and the coordinator of keyboard studies, frequently plays the instrument inside the campanile. Several students who all share an interest in learning to play the instruments play the bells on an electronic keyboard located inside the Performing Arts Center.
“Learning to play the basics of an organ is simple. You use your hands and your feet,” Johnson said.
When he first began teaching music at UNO, one of Johnson’s favorite memories was of Mrs. And Mr. Durham.
“Mrs. Durham used to come to all of my recitals,” Johnson said. “I think Mrs. Durham’s spirit is still in that bell tower.”
Since its completion and public dedication by Mrs. Durham in January 1989, the Henningson Memorial Campanile has become an integral part of UNO’s unique culture.
Over the years, the bell tower has evolved into more than a quick way to figure out what time it is: students use it as a meeting place, a way to share a great joke (like that time the Harry Potter movie theme was played on the bells) and a citywide symbol of our campus.