Faculty image Gregor "Doc" Nagele Janitor, Bell Ringer & Anatomy Demonstrator Medical School


In the year 1848 a young, bright-eyed, but uneducated German arrived in this country fresh from the Fatherland. A few months later he was employed by the University as a hod carrier in the erection of the old Medical Building. When this structure was completed, Nagele continued in the service of the University as the janitor of the Medical Building. In 1850 his bell summoned the first class to their lectures and it continued to ring through half a century. Nagele never varied a minute in the time of ringing the bell. It has been a familiar pastime with students to get about him just before time for the bell to ring and offer him all kinds of inducements to delay the ringing for a few minutes, but Nagele, true to the interests of the institution, always resisted temptation. 

For many years the State of Michigan maintained a Medical School and required of the students in attendance on this School proficiency in anatomy, while at the same time it made the procurement of anatomical material a criminal offence. Inevitably this led to more or less conflict between those connected with the Medical Department and the officers of the law. It always was a standing rule with the demonstrators of anatomy not to have Angele concerned in the procurement of anatomical material, but it was often his duty to receive and store away stolen property. Several times he was put upon the witness stand to give testimony in cases growing out of this anomaly maintained by the State. It invariably happened that when placed on the witness stand Nagele lost absolutely all knowledge of the English language; he could neither speak it nor understand it. In one case, the court appointed an interpreter, but the interpreter spoke German so poorly that
Nagele could not understand his dialect and the result was that the court received but little information from this witness. 

Many years in the dissecting room made Nagele a most proficient anatomist and there is no artery or nerve described by Gray, which Nagele could not find and trace to its final termination. Students often called upon him to demonstrate for them and not infrequently he proved to be a thorn in the flesh of new demonstrators, inasmuch as his knowledge of the finer details of anatomy was much more complete than theirs. It is doubtful if Professor Ford ever had among his students one who became more proficient in practical anatomy than was the old janitor of the Medical Building. 

Some three or four years ago the Regents decided that Nagele's services were no longer needed. He had grown too old and too feeble to do the work of a janitor and the University clock loudly proclaimed the hours so that there was no excuse for the ringing of the bell; therefore Nagele was dismissed. He went to the Dean of the Department, with tears in his eyes, and said: 
"They tell me that I can no longer ring the bell, and that I am discharged."  Immediately, every member of the Medical Faculty was stricken with deafness, so far as the striking of the clock was concerned, and persuaded the Board of Regents that it was absolutely necessary that Nagele should continue to ring the bell. From that time until his death, he occupied his old position and served as a pensioner. 

He was kind hearted, genial in manner, true to his duty, and beloved by all who came in contact with him. He was quick at repartee and generally returned a Roland for every Oliver that students hurled at him. His kindness of heart is shown by the fact that, having no children of his own, he took a poor orphan lad, gave him a home and an education, and started him in the world. He acquired a modest competency and his last years were made easy by the possession of all the necessities and many of the comforts of life. He died last July, after a brief and comparatively painless illness. Old students on returning to the University will miss his genial and quaint face and the old bell will be rung no more. 


Victor C. Vaughan, '78 m.

The Michigan Alumnus

October 1900, page 15

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