UW News

October 28, 2011

Brewster Denny: Five decades ringing in UW Homecoming

UW News

An extraordinary man achieved an extraordinary goal Friday at the UW.

Brewster Denny, dean emeritus of the Evans School of Public Affairs, completes his plan of ringing the Denny Bell to announce Homecoming for a half century.

Brewster Denny, dean emeritus of the Evans School of Public Affairs, completes his plan of ringing the Denny Bell to announce Homecoming for a half century.

Brewster Denny, 87, great-grandson of Seattle pioneers Arthur and Mary Denny and dean emeritus of the Evans School of Public Affairs, returned to campus to ring the famous Denny Bell announcing Homecoming — as he has done for five decades.

He first rang the bell in 1961 on the occasion of the University’s 100th year, with the late UW basketball player Jack Nichols. They called themselves the Denny Bell Committee, and Denny decided then to keep ringing the bell for Homecoming until the University turned 150.

On Friday, flanked by family, friends and UW well-wishers, he got to his goal.

Denny uses a wheelchair these days so could not scramble, as before, to the cramped chamber housing the bell in Denny Hall, the UW’s oldest building. So a rope was run from the massive bell to where Denny was stationed on the fourth floor. He gave a hearty pull and, once again, made the historic bell ring out among smiles all around.

Nearby were Denny’s wife, Patricia, and daughter Maria Denny; grandchildren Jacob and Ella Kodjababian, age 8 and 10 respectively, well as other friends and supporters from the Evans School of Public Affairs.

UWTV was on hand as well, so look for a segment on Denny in the next edition of the station’s magazine-style news show, UW360.

Much has been written over the years about Brewster Denny and the odd history of the Denny Bell, which was cast in 1859 and was first called the Varsity Bell. UW staffer and historian Antoinette Wills wrote of Denny and his legacy in the September issue of Columns, the UW Alumni Associations magazine. Jon Marmor, Columns editor, reviewed the bell’s history in a 1995 article.

A couple of years back, Denny told UW Today that the Denny Bell will always have special significance for the UW, as a reminder of the forward-thinking people who founded the institution.

“Its the oldest public university on the West Coast, a great university,” he said. “And these people were real visionaries. As they used to say when the sailboats would come into the different harbors looking for people to trade with — they’d look up and see (the Territorial University Building) and say, ‘My God, those guys are serious!”

And of his own role in more than one-third of UW history he said merely, “My descendency from people who landed at Alki Point I’ve never looked upon as an entitlement, only a responsibility.”

The ringing bell brought people walking over to Denny to see what the occasion was. After the event, the Evans School hosted a reception for Denny downstairs where he was congratulated by friends and UW officials. “We have three generations of Dennys here today,” Maria Denny told the gathered crowd, to applause. “Dad bridges the gap between the new generation back all the way to the very early beginnings of the University of Washington and Seattle.

“As a child and a young man, dad had very close relationships with many of the early settlers. And in fact, Rolland Denny – dad called him Uncle Roll – would have heard this Denny Bell in 1862. He would have been 11 years then. So that just puts it all into perspective and really makes us feel like 150 years isn’t that long.”

Actually, the Denny Bell remained silent for a few years in the 1970s when Homecoming was canceled during the worst of the Vietnam War.

But the Huskies are 5 and 2 going into Homecoming this year — lets round up a little and say that Brewster Denny is undefeated at 50 for 50.