Bell ‘Awakening’ Project Holds Special Meaning for One of Church Farm School’s Longest-Serving Employees

Joe Fanelli
Images via Church Farm School.
The task of "awakening" the long-dormant bell in Church Farm School's Chapel of the Atonement was particularly meaningful for Facilities Manager Joe Fanelli.
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One of Church Farm School’s most steadfast and longest-serving employees is Joe Fanelli, who joined CFS in 1988 after seeing the passion his older brother Neil — who was the school’s Director of Finance and Operations for nearly 40 years — had for the private school in Exton and its mission.

Initially, Fanelli was hired as a carpenter under then-Physical Plant Manager LeRoy Coer, whom he greatly admired.

“He was the nicest man that I have ever worked with,” Fanelli said. “I was always eager to learn from him and help out wherever I could.”

Fanelli’s own organizational, technical, and people skills led him to take on an expanded role following Coer’s retirement.

Today, as Facilities Manager, Fanelli ably leads a small team — along with many contractors and vendors — to oversee the maintenance of CFS’s buildings and grounds, including not just the academic, athletic, and residential life facilities, but faculty homes, too. It’s a massive undertaking, and one that the Facilities team undertakes with immense care, pride, and excellence.

Fanelli also enjoys special projects that he finds particularly meaningful. For example, when Head of School Ned Sherrill approached him about the possibility of awakening the long-dormant Chapel of the Atonement bell — which was created by the Meneely Bell Company in Troy, N.Y., in 1923 — Fanelli was eager to take on the challenge.

He and his team made Sherrill’s wish a reality, as the first public bell ringing was held on Aug. 26, 2022 at an all-faculty Chapel. It now draws the CFS community together every Wednesday for weekly Chapel services.

“The bell ‘awakening’ project has found a special place in my heart,” said Fanelli. “Maybe it is because I was married in the Chapel, had services for my father’s passing in the Chapel, or just knowing how important the building is to the mission and to our community. Throughout all the events we’ve had in the Chapel, the bell has sat quietly by, watching spiritually over campus, much as I feel I have watched over campus physically with all my heart.”

The project was especially meaningful, he added, because “LeRoy was always bothered that he left CFS without getting it working. So, knowing that the bell has come alive, it means a lot to me.”

In addition to the Chapel, the new Maintenance Building is a big source of pride for Fanelli, a space that his team — which also includes carpenter Brian Heckert and electrician and plumber Al Yusko — can now claim as their own.

“These guys are the best, and I’d give them the shirt off my back,” said Fanelli.

The team meets every morning for coffee to review daily tasks, and they often set about these tasks in disparate locations, not seeing each other until the next morning. Therefore, Fanelli said his favorite tradition is decorating the Chapel for Pageant, when the team can spend the day together customizing the space for the event with lush velvet curtains, roped pine, poinsettias and wreaths, and candles — all while enjoying Christmas music and camaraderie.

“The people at CFS are like family,” he said. “And I hope that they understand that we are always looking out for their safety and well-being, so that they can do their jobs to the best of their ability.”

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