Watch this beautifully filmed - and completely untrue - video about Ron "Coop" Payne, James Madison University's retiring cupola bell ringer. (Youtube/James Madison University)

Every college has its beloved traditions, and at James Madison University, with its iconic Wilson Hall tower, it’s the ringing of chimes every half-hour that sets the cadences of life. Students hope to climb up to the cupola at least once before they graduate to hear the bells and see the view of the lovely Harrisonburg, Va., campus rolled out like a painting beneath them.

And JMU used that to punk us.

A  now-annual tradition in the marketing and communications department, spokesman Bill Wyatt said, is that a couple of jokesters on staff goad everyone to do an April Fools’ Day news release. Every year the ideas get shot down — the risk is obvious. “There’s a lot of things you have to consider. You don’t want to have fun at someone else’s expense,” he said. “We just never had the right idea.”

This year, though …

With an idea that they thought would make alumni, who remember the bells well, smile, and prospective students laugh — and with the help of a local actor and director, Jay Zehr — they went for it:

When Ron “Coop” Payne began ringing the bells of Wilson Hall, Dr. Ronald E. Carrier was the university’s president. Out of more than 100 applicants, Payne was selected to keep JMU’s campus on time. Secluded in the cozy cupola atop Wilson for 31 years, this once-anonymous individual has been doing just that.

A lot can change in 31 years and Coop’s view from the cupola has certainly followed suit. Looking toward Massanutten, a tall ISAT tower is now in view. In the opposite direction, bright lights from the Forbes Center catch his eye at night. After peering out the cupola windows for more than 30 years, Payne is still mesmerized by the beauty of campus from his unique perspective.

Coop has become a master of keeping time. Though the steps of Wilson are steep, he admits to missing only one hourly chime in his career.  Lucky for Coop, only 3 students missed a 3:30 class on that day due to the missed chimes.

Many are unaware of Coop’s presence in the highest point of the Quad, but our mystery bell ringer often walks the same sidewalks, passing a smile and holding a door for any JMU friend.

With a grin on his face and a JMU cap on his head, Coop proudly retires from the bells, anxious to help select his successor.

For the first time since 1985, the cupola bell ringer position is vacant. A search committee has been established and is accepting inquiries as of today. All friends of JMU who would like to serve campus as Coop did for so many years are encouraged to apply.


Applicants should keep the following qualifications in mind:

    • Must be comfortable going up and down stairs and ladders
    • Must be comfortable in small spaces
    • Must be comfortable with heights
    • Must own a watch
    • Must be familiar with military time
    • Experience with clock mechanics not required
    • Experience in music is preferred
    • Must have basic understanding of rhythm
    • Must know the JMU Fight Song and Alma Mater by heart
    • Disclaimer: Unexpected “hang outs” with Duke Dog will occur


If you have any remaining questions, please click the above job posting.

No one has applied for the job yet. No reporters have demanded a complete accounting of how much the Commonwealth has spent on salary and benefits for this public employee for 31 years (yet).

But a couple did ask to interview ol’ Coop.

Especially those who were sent just a summary of the story (an honest mistake, Wyatt said) with a broken link to the page.

Yep. I got my bell rung, too.