Hubert Danzebrink, a watchmaker who painstakingly rebuilt the original Montgomery County Courthouse clock and returned the beloved landmark to a permanent, if less lofty, perch, died Sunday at his home in Crawfordsville. He was 88.
A full obituary appears on Page 2A.
From his workshop at Winchell Jewelers, which had been desperately seeking a watch and clock repairman when the German-born horologist arrived in the United States to learn English, Danzebrink built a reputation as a meticulous steward of timepieces.
The courthouse clock had towered over downtown Crawfordsville until shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. Its tower was dismantled after being deemed structurally unsafe. (According to legend, an artist painting a picture of the courthouse noticed the tower was leaning, but some people, including Danzebrink, thought the painter was drunk.)
The 900-pound clock, which had been specially ordered from Boston when the courthouse was dedicated in the mid-1870s, was unceremoniously left to rust away outside the county’s highway garage. The Boulevard Mall’s merchants association outbid a scrap metal dealer at a 1967 auction and planned to display the clock for shoppers.
“What do you intend to do with the pendulum? You have no place to hang it if the clock is mounted on the floor,” Danzebrink asked the merchants.
“Oh, we’ll cut it off a bit,” they replied.
Before the 9-foot pendulum could be lopped off, Danzebrink and his business partner Leonard Winchell purchased the clock for their new building, which they redesigned around the clock’s measurements, across from the truncated courthouse.
Working without blueprints, Dazenbrink spent about eight days reassembling the clock piece-by-piece, finishing it off with a new set of hands.
“The restored clock should not only prove to be a fine educational gadget for school children but will bring back fond memories to many persons,” Dick Robinson, a Journal Review reporter, wrote after the project was completed.
Danzebrink was the last surviving original member of the committee formed to raise money for the new courthouse clock tower installed in 2018.
“It just meant a lot to him, like the rest of us, when we were finished,” said Sandy Lofland-Brown, who chaired the committee.
Hubert J. Danzebrink was born March 27, 1933, in Duisburg, Germany. His father Heinrich was the city engineer.
After World War II broke out across Europe, the family endured nightlong bombing raids over the city. A bomb was dropped on the house next door during one of the attacks, shattering their windows and blowing out candles, Danzebrink later recalled in an oral history interview with the Montgomery County Historical Society.
Children were required to join Adolf Hitler’s youth organization, where they were taught that Nazis would conquer the world.
“It didn’t convince me at all,” Danzebrink told the historical society. “... If you believe in God and you have your faith, it didn’t do anything for us.”
Most of the family moved to his mother Maria’s hometown of Meppen outside of the direct target zone as the bombings intestified. (His father, who was held prisoner in France during World War I, was tasked with supplying essential city services in Duisburg and stayed behind. He survived.)
After the war the family returned to Duisburg, where Danzebrink graduated high school and trained to become a master watchmaker.
He came to the U.S. in 1959 to work with an uncle in Lafayette, planning to stay no longer than a year before returning to Germany. He met Winchell at a dinner for watchmakers. After their retirement as co-owners in 1998, Danzebrink kept his workshop in the store.
Danzebrink married Dorothy Kohl in 1961 and became a U.S. citizen three years later. (He couldn’t take the oath of citizenship until a week after the presidential election, despite wanting to have the ceremony done in time to vote.)
Along with his wife, he is survived by his children Norbert, Rita and Eric, and five grandchildren.
In the weeks before the new clock tower was dedicated, Danzebrink climbed up to the loft of the old jewelry store — by then an electronics business — to wind the gears of the original clock, which he is credited with saving.
“Well that’s true,” he said, “because, first of all, I had a place to put it, and secondly, I knew what to do with it, and it’s been keeping time ever since.”