Jim Phelan spent Friday swinging from the Campanile, dodging concerned falcons, checking light bulbs and making sure the clock gets students to class on time.
Phelan is a steeplejack, hired every few years by the campus to service the highest parts of 307-foot Sather Tower, the third tallest bell-and-clock-tower in the world. He also climbs on sky-scraping flagpoles and antennas across the Bay Area.
His father, Jim Phelan Sr., was a steeplejack for more than 50 years. His grandfather, John Phelan, began steeplejacking in Waterford, Ireland, before moving to Northampton, Mass. Jim Phelan’s son, Kells, joined him last week on the Campanile.
Phelan has been working on the Campanile for decades, but that’s not his only connection to Berkeley. His wife, Christina Sponselli, is the director of social media for Berkeley’s fundraising efforts at University Development and Alumni Relations.
“It’s kind of neat walking away from a job,” Phelan told the San Francisco Chronicle in a 2002 profile referencing his work climbing flagpoles at the top of skyscrapers. “Some of these flags are 20 or 30 feet. You can drive 5 miles away and still see your work.”