The naming of the performance space inside the structure was made possible by Bell’s husband, Bob, who surprised his wife with a gift to Berry College. Combined with contributions from other alumni and friends, that gift has helped push fundraising for the $6.3 million Ford project past the $4 million mark. The project includes restoration and renovation of the auditorium as well as refurbishment of the Music Department. Berry officials hope to complete funding by May 2019 so work can begin.
Plans for the auditorium — constructed in the 1920s at the direction of Henry and Clara Ford — include the restoration of historic architectural elements and significant internal renovations meant to enhance the acoustical experience for performers and audience members alike. Expertise has been provided by Kirkegaard Associates of Chicago, one of the nation’s foremost acoustics consulting firms.
When work is completed, the renovated facility will better serve the needs of Berry’s thriving music program while also enriching the cultural life of the surrounding community.
The recital hall naming is fitting recognition for a “double alumna” whose love of music and drama was first awakened as a high school and college student at Berry. Bell, like many fellow students of her time, entered Berry College with no money but with a burning desire to earn a college degree. She earned her high school diploma from the Martha Berry School for Girls in 1952 and her Bachelor of Science in education from Berry College in 1956.
It was at Berry that Bell experienced her first concert, opera and ballet. She also had opportunities to polish her vocal talents as a performer with the Berry Ballad Girls, Concert Choir and Berry Singers. Popular with her fellow students, she was chosen Miss Berry High School and Miss Berry College.
Later in life, Bell performed for presidents, governors and foreign dignitaries — on television as well as in churches, conventions, nursing homes and Atlanta Braves games. She was soloist for Southern Charm Ltd., an award-winning Atlanta ensemble.
In addition to her performance work, Bell has actively promoted the arts as president of the Atlanta Music Club and as a board member for the Atlanta Repertory Opera Company, Atlanta Children’s Civic Theater, Southern Ballet, Woodruff Arts Center, DeKalb County and Georgia councils for the arts, and Emory Friends of Music. She also has served on the boards of the Auditory Education Clinic, Southern Christian Children’s Home and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee to the Georgia State Senate.
The Bells live in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree Corners where they are active members of Peachtree Corners Presbyterian Church — she as a deacon and choir member, he as an elder. They have two daughters, Kathryn Leigh Barker and Allison Gaye Auman, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.