Login to Claremont COURIER

Louise Bell

Teacher, traveler, artist, gardener, champion of Claremont’s international students

Louise W. Bell died peacefully, surrounded by her family, on August 16, 2018.

Louise, who deeply appreciated the global community and its international culture, arts and people, was born in Turkey in 1929. Her parents worked for the American Board Service Committee. By the time she was five, she, her parents and two siblings had crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times by ship.

In the early 1930s her family left Turkey through Syria to come back to New England, where her father was the minister in several churches in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Her parents would return to Turkey for 25 more years of service in Istanbul while she attended high school in Auburndale, Massachusetts at the Walker Missionary Home.

She went on to attend Wheelock College (now Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development) in Boston for two years before transferring to Ohio’s Oberlin College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and music.

Her first teaching position took her to Thessaloniki, Greece, where she taught English in the girl’s school at Anatolia College. While living there, she met the man who would become her husband of 55 years, Graydon Bell, an American teacher at Robert College in Istanbul.

In 1954 the couple crossed the Atlantic together to be married in Pasadena, California. Mrs. Bell taught second grade in West Covina while her husband completed his PhD at the City of Roses’ California Institute of Technology. Their first child, Kathy, was born while they were living in Pasadena.

In 1956, Mr. Bell was offered a professorship at the newly established Harvey Mudd College in Claremont. Being among the founding faculty on a new campus was exciting and rewarding for the family; there they created connections that would last both of their lifetimes. Their son, Steve, was the first baby born to a HMC faculty member. By the time they were settled into the leafy college community and had bought their first home on Seventh Street, their third child, Carolee, had been born.

Mrs. Bell worked as a substitute teacher, volunteered at church, and hosted faculty and students, all the while raising their three children. In 1963, Mr. Bell’s first yearlong sabbatical took the family to Washington, DC, where they arrived on the very day Martin Luther King Jr. was giving his “I Have a Dream” speech on the Washington Mall.

A year later they were back in Claremont, with Mrs. Bell teaching Sunday school, helping to raise money for the United Negro College Fund, and furthering her love of watercolor painting. Seven years later the family drove across Canada to arrive in Ottawa for their second sabbatical.

In the mid-1970s Mrs. Bell created the first foreign student coordinator position at the Claremont Colleges. In that position she developed the new international student orientation program, calling on community volunteers to help. Later she assisted Fran Drake and Charlene Martin as they launched the Community Friends of International Students. Many of the international students she helped became fixtures in her family’s lives from then on. 

“Louise Bell beautifully expressed the value of having an office that focused on welcoming and assisting new international students and developing programs to support international understanding and friendship,” said Mrs. Martin, “She did absolutely groundbreaking work on formulating the rationale for the existence of what later became International Place at the Claremont Colleges.”

Time flew by, and as the nest emptied, she and her husband were ready for their final sabbatical in Brisbane, Australia. There Mrs. Bell continued to paint, make new friends and explore yet another beautiful country.

Back in California the couple enjoyed cycling with friends, star-gazing with their telescope at Joshua Tree, watching their grandchildren grow, and continuing to travel throughout the US, Turkey, Norway, Austria and Mexico.

During the 1980s she considered the floor-to-ceiling murals she created along the halls of Claremont United Church of Christ’s education building to be her biggest challenge and accomplishment. “I believe that painting opens the mind and heart to better seeing, rewards the soul and lifts the spirit,” she said.

She loved sustainable gardening at her home on Radcliffe Drive, exhibiting her art with fellow artists, joining Claremont Campus Women activities, tutoring for Claremont After School Program, staying involved with Claremont United Church of Christ, the Colleges and community at large. And she deeply enjoyed a close relationship with her children and grandchildren as she continued to tell the stories of her life.

She embraced her last home at Claremont Manor, singing in the chorus, taking part in many activities, making good friends and reconnecting with dear old friends.

She is survived by her three children, a son-in-law and four grandchildren.

“She thought of herself as living a full and fortunate life,” her family shared. “And we and all of her many friends felt the good fortune of knowing her.”

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Inland Valley Hope Partners’ food bank at inlandvalleyhopepartners.org (click on “Ways to Help,” “Investing in Our Mission”), Harvey Mudd College’s Graydon and Louise Bell Prize at hmc.edu/campaign/how-to-give (click on “Give to Harvey Mudd College”), or Claremont United Church of Christ at claremontucc.org (click on “Online Giving”).