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Inside the Belltower

No building evokes the feel of NC State like the Memorial Belltower.

Since its completion in 1937, the 115-foot monument to alumni killed in World War I has been the university’s most recognizable symbol and likely the least-explored building on campus. Students, alumni and supporters know it well, but few have been inside the granite belfry.

Lately, though, the club of Belltower insiders has grown, thanks to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Tom Stafford.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Stafford started a tour with an NC State history lecture to a group of employees on the steps of Holladay Hall, the campus’ first office building, first lecture hall, first dormitory – the “first everything at NC State,” he said.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Tom Stafford leads a tour of the Memorial Belltower.

From there, the group went to the rear of Holladay, to the room housing the recently restored carillon, which plays the Belltower’s hourly toll. LaShica Waters, an academic advisor in the public and international affairs program, played her own six-tone composition on the carillon.

In physical terms, the tour of the Belltower itself is short – the marble Shrine Room is the only stop. There, Stafford regales his audience with the stories behind the Belltower.

He tells the tales of two noteworthy alumni named on the Shrine Room’s granite plaque: Alexander Holladay Pickel, grandson of founding NC State Chancellor Alexander Q. Holladay, who died in World War I; and George L. Jeffers, who was not killed in World War I but mistakenly appeared on the plaque. Once the error was identified, Jeffers’ name was changed to “George E. Jefferson,” a pseudonym representing all NC State alumni, Stafford said.

Stafford also shares the roots of the campus tradition in which all senior class rings spend a night locked in the Shrine Room before reaching their owners.

“We do that so that their rings will absorb the ambiance of the Shrine Room and the traditions of NC State, and that that will be a way of connecting their ring with all the alumni who have gone before,” he said.

Stafford’s tours began three years ago, when a student leader asked the long-time administrator to take him and some friends into the tower. Word of the tour spread around campus, and Stafford fielded more and more requests. Now, he gives roughly two student tours a month, and he’s recently added employee tours to his agenda.

“I do this as a way to thank each and every one of you for the service that you give to NC State,” Stafford told his employee tour group on Oct. 25. “This is a great university, and the reason that it’s great is you, the people who are here — the students, the faculty and the staff.”

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