Steeple restored to OCU chapel


The new spire is secured atop Smith Chapel on the day before Thanksgiving at Oklahoma City University by a specialty installation crew from Belger Cartage Service.

On May 5, 2008, strong, straight winds from the west blew down 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. On the Oklahoma City University campus, the steeple rising 57 feet atop the Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel snapped from its base. It fell, leaving an impression in the slate roof tiles, then slid down, embedding in a flat section atop the building.

Suddenly, a distinctive feature of the OCU landscape for 40 years was noticeably absent. And the journey toward restoring it proved quite lengthy.

Within two days, the fallen steeple was removed and that portion of the roof repaired. But Glede Holman, university risk manager, soon learned that the former steeple was too heavy to be rated safe by current construction standards. A new steeple was required.

Companies specializing in church steeples were willing to adapt an existing model, but they were not able to manufacture a match for the original steeple. To maintain the historical significance and architectural integrity of the building, a search was launched for someone to build a replica.

Ultimately, Alaskan Copper in Seattle was chosen. The firm designed a new aluminum spire whose exterior matches the original one. And Belger Cartage Service, a specialty crane and hoisting company, was hired for the installation work.

In late summer 2011, university officials learned the new steeple would be ready by fall. The work to erect it was scheduled for Thanksgiving week.

At left, the new steeple is lowered into place. Above, students, university staff, including President Robert Henry, and representatives of the architectural team and construction crew lay hands on the new steeple.

The carefully crated steeple—a spire 47 feet tall, topped by a 10-foot cross—and two massive cranes were transported to the site.

To celebrate, Margaret Ball, OCU vice president for University-Church Relations, announced a dedication ceremony on Nov. 22. That afternoon, the campus community gathered on the south lawn of the chapel building. They were joined by representatives of the companies involved in the project. Installation was Nov. 23.

Opening the ceremony, Ball explained, "Our chapel, with its spire, is located on the intersection of the campus and the community, and thus represents the entire community’s need and hopeful willingness to look upward to God for guidance and strength.

"The significance of our steeple is more than mere symbolism; it is correspondence," she said. "The very structure of our steeple, pointing upward, suggests the greatness of our God as we gaze heavenward, and it represents a call for people to come and worship."

Led by Rodney Newman, OCU chaplain, the ceremony included prayer for all who worship and work in the chapel and for the safety of the crew installing the spire. Megan Wagner sang "Lift High the Cross." A highlight was the presentation of a prayer scroll, 10 feet long. Preceding the dedication, prayers, signatures, and well-wishes had been written upon it at various campus locations. The scroll was taped inside the spire before it was installed.

The exterior of the cross also bears special words. Holman suggested Ball write an expression of gratitude upon it. Without hesitation, she inscribed the name of the late Dorothy Graham.

A United Methodist, Graham served as chapel administrator for 25 years—into her 80s. Although her name on the cross cannot be seen from the ground, it is a permanent witness to her loving ministry.

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