BAY CITY, Mich. — The large brass bell hanging at Revette's bar and restaurant in Bay City didn't ring often.
During World War II, Wilbur "Papa" Revette rang it to let city residents know that a shipment of beer __ a scarcity at the time __ had come in. And it tolled every New Year's Eve five times for the five Revette boys in active military duty during the war.
On Dec. 31, 1944, Wilbur Revette went about the tradition as usual __ a ring each for Frank, Darrell, Lyle, Jack and Ron. This time, though, the bell stopped after four rings, refusing to ring again, the often-told family story goes. Shortly after, the family learned that one son had died in battle.
The bell never rang in the bar again after that New Year's Eve, and as the building on the city's west side changed ownership over the ensuing years, the bell was lost.
"We didn't think we'd ever see that bell again," said Ron Revette, the only brother still living.
But on Thanksgiving, 67 years after the last bell chime, Ron Revette was able to ring it again __ the bell had been found during the summer of 2010 as the building was renovated in advance of the grand opening of Latitude 43 Grill & Bar.
Ron Revette, in front of dozens of family, let the bell toll four times, one ring for his fellow military brothers.
"That's how we always rang it. To get to tip that bell a little bit and ring it ." he said, his voice trailing off as memories of his family seeped in.
A couple weeks before the last bell ringing in 1944, the family had learned that Frank, the eldest boy who was serving in the U.S. Army, was missing in action. The Battle of the Bulge had just begun and Frank was stationed in Germany.
"He knew then it wouldn't be good," remembers Bill Schultz, Wilbur Revette's son-in-law, of the bell's refusal to ring. Schultz is married to Wilbur Revette's daughter Joan. "They found out in January that Frank had died."
The other four Revette boys, all in various branches of the military, were away when Frank died and didn't learn of his death until later in 1945 when they returned home on leave.
"It was awful," said Ron Revette, now 84. Five blue stars had hung in the window of the family home for the five boys __Frank and Lyle in the Army, Darrell and Jack in the Air Force and Ron in the Navy. Youngest brother Michael eventually enlisted in the Army, but was too young to serve during the war.
When Frank died, one blue star was replaced with a gold star. Returning home, the brothers weren't sure who had died.
"I came home on leave and that's when I found out about Frank," Ron Revette, the seventh in a line of 10 children, said. "We were very close."
Ron Revette keeps the bell in his home now, but said he plans to move it to one of the bars and restaurants in town still owned by family members and bring back the New Year's Eve tradition.
Ray VanMullekom, who owns Latitude 43 with his brother Joe VanMullekom, said the bell was found in the ceiling rafters, with the large 50-foot rope used to ring it still attached. VanMullekom, who is friends with Ron Revette's grandson, Jason, said when the family asked if he had seen the bell, he knew it belonged with them.
"There is a lot more sentimental value to them than there is to us," he said. "If I had an opportunity to get something from some of my family members from years and years ago, I would appreciate the same thing."
Denise LaFray, Ron's daughter, said the family is extremely grateful to have the bell back. On Thanksgiving Day, Ron Revette captivated his grandchildren and great-grandchildren with family tales that the bell had rekindled.
"We're sad for the loss (that the bell reminds us of), but the memories are wonderful," LaFray said.
Information from: The Bay City Times, http://www.mlive.com/bay-city