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Pottery enthusiast, historian Bell dies

Helen Bell was many things to many people.

Some people knew her as a nurse and educator. Bell became director of the Red Wing School of Practical Nursing in 1956. She went on to teach at what today is Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical.

Other people knew her through the Church of St. Joseph or as Mrs. Claus every Christmas.

Still more people knew her as a local historian.

For much of the community, of course, Bell's name was synonymous with the Red Wing Collectors Society. She was charter member No. 109 and a fixture at the annual convention.

Bell, 92, died Monday at Seminary Home.

"She was so active in local history matters," Goodhue County Historical Society Director Char Henn said. In fact, Henn turned to Bell for help with the master's thesis "Educational standards and the professionalization of nursing in World War I."

Bell's special interests included genealogy, Belle Creek history and the history center's oral history committee, Henn said. Bell helped in taping interviews with older residents so their stories wouldn't be lost.

"She was a steadfast historian of our church," Marcy Doyle said.

The Church of St. Joseph is preparing to celebrate its 150th anniversary in a couple of years. Doyle said she will use information Bell collected over the decades for that project.

Bell also was active in church life. A Bible study group met at her home for many years, and the St. Anne's Altar Society will meet as a body at 11 a.m. Thursday to remember their fellow member, Doyle said.

Red Wing Pottery also was dear to Bell's heart. Her father worked there. She often told about growing up on Smoky Row, where homemakers living in the small neighborhood adjacent to kilns would check which way the wind blew before hanging laundry out to dry.

The pottery closed in the 1960s, and when the Republican Eagle ran an item in the 1970s inviting people interested in talking about their locally produced pottery to meet for supper, she attended.

The Red Wing Collectors Society was born.

"She was instrumental throughout the organization's history -- through creating the RWCS Convention Supplement, presenting education sessions, volunteering. Helen was inducted into the RWCS Hall of Fame in 2001, recognizing her dedication and support of the organization," Executive Director Stacy Wegner said.

"On a personal note, it was a privilege to get to know Helen Bell. I had the opportunity to have many wonderful conversations with Helen both at convention and visits to her home."

Henn said Bell spent her retirement years studying where her family lived, where her father worked and where they worshiped.

"With all the history she did, I think she ended up knowing who she was," Henn said.

Anne Jacobson

Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 

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