Al Bell showed world’s window to school kids

2011-06-15T21:41:00Z 2011-06-16T00:09:44Z Al Bell showed world’s window to school kidsBy MARY PIEPER, Mason City Globe Gazette

KLEMME — For children growing up on farms or in small towns in Iowa in the 1950s through the 1970s, Al Bell was a window to the rest of the world.

Bell, a global traveler, would come to their schools and show films he shot during his journeys and tell stories about them.

On Saturday people will have a chance to relive those days when four of Bell’s films will be shown as part of Klemme Ag Days.

Klemme was one of the hundreds of schools across Iowa that Bell visited.

“In those pre-cable TV, pre-Internet days, that was very much a highlight of the school year,” said Jane McClure, a 1976 Klemme High School graduate now living in St. Paul, Minn.

“Al Bell had such enthusiasm and a genuine love for what he was doing. I think it made us all want to be travelers.”

Bell, who died in 1993, had about 20 to 30 films he showed to schoolchildren.

Four of them, shot in Peru, Canada, Egypt and the Holy Land and each 20-40 minutes in length, have been refurbished and transferred to a DVD.

They will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Klemme Community Center.


Admission will be 10 cents in honor of the dime that Bell used to charge  schoolchildren to watch the movies. All proceeds will go to the Klemme Homestead Museum.

Lemonade and popcorn will be served.

Nyla Bridges, a 1972 Klemme High School graduate who now lives in Wisconsin, purchased the DVD of the movies as well as a book about Bell written by his daughter, Becky Bell-Greenstreet.

Bridges will donate the DVD and the book to the Klemme Public Library after they are done being used this weekend.

Bell was “a very charismatic, energetic powerhouse,” Bridges said. “He was mesmerizing to listen to.”

Bridges now owns a travel agency and has traveled frequently with her family. She said Bell definitely had an influence on her.

Interest in Bell was revived through a Facebook group called I Remember Al Bell. Formed several years ago, the group now has more than 3,000 members.

According to posts by the members, among the North Iowa schools Bell visited were Garner, Alexander, Nora Springs-Rock Falls, Titonka, St. Ansgar, Britt, Hampton, Kanawha, Rockwell, Marble Rock, Belmond, Rowan and Meservey-Thornton.

In September 2010, an Al Bell Film Festival organized by his family was held in Stuart. Bell was from nearby Menlo.

Among those who attended the film festival was Jim Latham of Clear Lake, who grew up in Alexander and attended school there in the 1950s.

In those days, when TV was in black and white and had just “three channels and a test pattern,” Latham said, Bell’s 16 mm color and sound films of his travels were a real treat.


The movies were shown to all the students, from kindergartners through high school seniors.

“Everyone was at rapt attention,” Latham said.

Both Bell and his wife, Rhea, who accompanied him to the school assemblies, modeled costumes from the different places they visited.

Latham said they also had artifacts from their travels that the children could touch.

He still remembers the stories Bell told, such as kissing the Blarney Stone while in Ireland.

“He was an Iowa treasure,” Latham said. “I’m forever grateful to him.”

Copyright 2015 Mason City Globe Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. Gunner
    Report Abuse
    Gunner - June 16, 2011 11:04 am
    Brings back fond memories. I also remember Al having a really quirky sense of humor too.
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