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Retired pastor refurbishes church bell as tribute to liberty, faith, service

After 62 years of serving the Christian ministry, all the Rev. Charles Hobbs wanted upon his retirement was a bell.

The 86-year-old pastor and World War II veteran's wish was granted.

Hobbs's backyard on Ruie Road in North Tonawanda is now home to the 650-pound bell that rang at the historic Forest Avenue Christian Church in Buffalo, where Hobbs served as a pastor for the last 10 years of his ministry. A new congregation purchased the church after Hobbs retired in late 2010 -- though it kept the same church name -- and decided to give the bell to Hobbs when church members heard about his dream to refurbish it as a "Bell of Remembrance."

Today, the pastor invites the community to his home to celebrate the bell, which Hobbs said honors three things: the importance of the Liberty Bell and its reminder of freedom and self-governance; the worshippers of the church where the bell once was housed; and the past and future veterans who have served the country.

"We refurbished the bell and made a three-foot stand for it and it's absolutely gorgeous when the sunshine sparkles on it," he said. "First time the bell's been outside for 150 years."

The bell rang for more than a century in the church's steeple until the church was sold to the new congregation. Hobbs said the congregation decided not to use the bell, and gave him permission to have it.

Hobbs paid to have it removed from the steeple and brought onto his property, then restored the steeple.

"It's better for it to be in the backyard than in the chapel," he said. "This bell rang at the last service of the [former congregation] and that made me think of the liberty bell, and what it means for veterans, as well."

For many years, church-goers heard the bell ring in the chapel for weddings, funerals and worship, said Lynda Hauser, Hobbs's daughter. Worshippers can continue to recognize the importance of the bell in its new location.

"The bell meant a lot to the church, and so he wanted it to be preserved since it was important to them, and to his life," Hauser said.

Hobbs's 62-year service to Christian ministry included serving as a chaplain for the North Tonawanda Fire Department, and serving Western New York churches for more than 50 years, including St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Wheatfield.

But Hauser emphasized that the bell wasn't given to her father to honor his service, but rather what the Bell of Remembrance stood for: serving as a reminder of the importance of liberty, faith and freedom. She is proud her father was able to accomplish this goal.

"I just feel excited that a man of 86 years old continues to dream and realize his dreams," she said.

Hobbs said he hopes the bell will one day be placed in a North Tonawanda area cemetery among buried veterans.

The ceremony to celebrate the bell will take place at at 3 p.m. today at 1541 Ruie Road.