Church Bells Not Music to Neighbor's Ears


When Victor Winchester's 94-year-old wife, Adeline, died last year, he and his daughter donated church bells in her memory to St. Martha's Episcopal Church, which the couple had attended since 1963.

The bells ring several times each weekday for the West Covina church's day school, twice on Saturdays and five times on Sundays, typically with three-minute hymns, beginning at 8 a.m.

But the chimes aren't music to the ears of at least one neighbor. John R. Roy, 42, whose Larkwood Street home abuts the church's parking lot, calls the music irritating. Roy works at home, taking care of his 8- and 10-year-old children while his wife works outside the home.

"When the bells were initially installed, I could feel the vibration in my back yard," he said. "It was like being at a loud rock concert. It wakes my children on Sunday mornings. It's not that I'm anti-religious, the sound of the choir doesn't bother me at all. It's just irritating; that's basically it."

After Roy complained about the bells last June, Father Ray Smith, the church's rector, went and listened in Roy's back yard. Smith agreed to lower the volume and eliminate the 6 p.m. weekday bell. Smith said he thought the problem was solved.

Earlier this month, however, Roy wrote Councilman Bill Tarozzi, charging the chimes violate the city's unnecessary-noise ordinance. He said a police report he filed March 5 was ignored and threatened to sue the city if officials don't force the church to lower the volume even more.

West Covina police said the report was submitted to the district attorney's office, which dismissed the complaint.

Steve Wylie, assistant to the city manager, said Tuesday that the city is investigating.

Other neighbors apparently aren't bothered by the bells.

"I like them, they're nice," said Jennifer Miller, who has lived just south of the church on Lark Ellen Avenue for 10 years. "They sound peaceful. I look forward to them."

Susanne E. Sotela, who has lived on Larkwood down the street from the church for almost eight years, said she didn't know St. Martha's had bells.

"I never noticed them," she said. I'm home all day and I never hear the bells."

The Winchesters' daughter, Mary Ellen Fehr, 66, of West Covina, said the family wanted to donate the bells because her father remembered how nice the chimes sounded at their church in Wisconsin, where they lived before moving to California.

"I can't see anyone complaining," she said. "The music is more than bells . . . I think it's lovely."

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