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By Glenn Laxton
Tom Winfield has represented Smithfield in the Rhode Island House of Representatives for much of his adult life. He is also known for the funeral home in Greenville, that bears his family name and for several years for the bells he has rescued from an old church in Johnston and a one-room schoolhouse on Austin Avenue.
“My father said, ‘We have to save that bell,’ “ referring to the one room schoolhouse, Tom explained.
So, it was Dave’s Towing that came to the torn down school house in the early 1980’s, and hauled the old cast iron bell to the front of the Winfield Funeral Home where it sits today.
“We had a steel frame made for it. It’s the town’s bell and we rang it at Christmas at the same time as the bells at St. Thomas and Greenville Baptist were rung. It was really nice.”
Tom plans to expand the funeral home with the main entrance built at the side. It is there the bell will be moved into what Tom describes as a bell tower with a rope to ring it.
Then, there is another larger and louder bell known as Uncle Bernie’s bell.
The Uncle Bernie’s bell sits in front of Tom’s home in the rear of the funeral home where he had it placed, again by Dave’s Towing, in 2001.
“That’s the emotional attachment because of Uncle Bernie,” he said.
Bernard “Bernie” Goushakjian, a cousin of Tom’s mother, was living in Johnston when he had the opportunity to acquire many of the contents of an old church that had closed. One of the stipulations was that Bernie had to take a large bell from the church, which he did. Soon he decided to sell the bell and placed an ad in the local newspaper asking $3,500 for it. Bernie had worked part time for Tom Winfield at his Anderson-Winfield Funeral Home in Greenville for many years and it was Tom who immediately recognized Bernie’s name in the ad.
It wasn’t long before Tom purchased the bell and again, thanks to Dave’s Towing, the front of the funeral home had an addition.
“I use them all the time, “ Tom says, “This year we called everybody to order at Christmas time, ours, St. Thomas, next door and the Greenville Baptist by ringing them at the same time”
The sound of the bells could be heard for miles.
Tom also rings the bell in his front yard on the morning of the Fourth of July.
Why does he have these huge bells on his property?
“I can’t answer that very well,” he laughs. “But I find it very hard to say no.”
And then we walked to Tom’s house where he rang Uncle Bernie’s big bell, the sound, no doubt, being heard throughout Greenville.