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Bell Memorials Offers

  • Quality granite monuments in a range of colors and styles at reasonable prices.
  • Vases, in-house etching, porcelain photos. cemetery lettering, stone repairs, and monument restoration.
  • A large indoor display of 100% guaranteed monuments and markers.
  • Sales representatives that are available for in-home consultation.
  • The only monument company to be invited to be a member of the American Institute of Commemorative Art (AICA), "an association of memorial designers and craftsmen from throughout the United States and Canada who are devoted to the highest standards of commemorative memorial design and business ethics in the monument industry."


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"YES! That's exactly where I want it!" Jim Bell grins as the huge granite slab is lowered into its permanent location.

Preparing for the company's 50th annivedrsary, the Bells received a surprise. While going through dusty papers and pictures in the attic, they came upon a book of monuments and illustrations titled Beloit Marble Works, established 1896. There had been a a monument works in Beloit for 100 years.

Until this book was found, the Bells thought 1905 was the opening date for H. Grethen Beloit Granite Works. Grefen had come to Beloit, via Chicago and Concordia, establishing his business between the railroad tracks at 316 South River, on the present site of the new Farmway Coop elevators. That was a logical location as the marble and granite slabs were shipped in by train.

Marcella, who grew up in Beloit, went to work for H. Grethen the summer of 1937, just after high school graduation. She answered phone, did bookkeeping and started her sales career.
In March of 1938, her future husband, John D. Bell, came to Beloit as a "finished stone cutter". Their first date was that fall when they went out to dinner and then joined friends to listen to the World Series on the radio. John left for Snyder, Ok., in March of 1939 where he did carving and lettering at a Sienna pink granite quarry. Marcella joined him and they were married in May of 1939. During the seven and a half years they lived in Oklahoma, she worked in the quarry office.

In January 1946, they returned to Beloit to open their monument business. For three years they operated their business at 214 N. Baldwin Street. When Mr. Grethen died, they purchased his monument property from his son, Lyle, and moved their business to 316 South River. That was in 1949.

John D. had grown up at Fredonia where he learned the art of stone crafting from his father. The first three generations of the Bell family, all stonecrafters, were located in southeast Kansas and the great grandfather also spent some time in the Oklahoma Territory. A picture of him cutting the Bell family crest with a wooden mallet in his hand hangs in the Bell Memorials office. Also pictured are other generations of Bell crafters.

Marcella remembers her husband retelling his grandfather's tales of placing headstones in their wagon and hauling them to a pioneer's grave site tinder a tree. At that time the carving and lettering was done free hand using a mallet, chisel and hammer. More than once they took a horse in trade for services. In those early days, limestone and marble, which are soft stones, were used for the headstones. The years have proven their lack of permanency: marble can be scratched with a knife, the stone flakes away and deteriorates with time. The impermanence of marble can be seen in the 100-year-old headstones in area cemeteries. The weather elements of sun, rain, freezing and thawing and wind, have erodedthe lettering so that many are not legible. Many are also cracked, broken or chipped.

With the advent of the air compressor in the 1920s, the pneumatic hammer was invented, providing air power for the chisels. This enabled the stonecutters to use granite, a harder stone, which until that time had been used only by the very wealthy. Jim says, "About-the only thing that hasn't changed in the monument business is the stone. Granite is forever. It wont deteriorate. It should be around for a thousand years." He also noted that it comes in a variety of colors with Bell Memorial having 35 colors available [editor's note: now more than 90!]. Granite comes from all over the world - Sweden, Denmark, India, Africa, and the United States, particularly Missouri and Georgia.

Although there was air power, the chisels still had to be hand held. Jim recalls a story his grandfather told. It was Memorial Day, 1929. He was completing a monument and decided it would look a bit better if he cleaned up a certain letter. When the letter broke off and there was no way to fix it he literally beat on the stone in frustration: to hand tool another, it would take twenty to twenty-five hours

Jim still has some of his father's original tools - the handle of a large chisel is worn smooth from the grip of his father's hand. Jim notes that if he tools with the chisel for an hour, his hand will become numb. Of course, there are always those painful times when the hammer misses the chisel and strikes the hand. Jim says it seems to cause no permanent damage.

There were advancements in the late 1930s. Sandblasting came in and with it there was a product called Dunn's glue which was boiled and poured on top of the stone. A rubber mat was applied to the glue. That allowed the use of a stencil knife to cut out the letters. By the mid 1940s, the stencil was made in rubber sheets that could be stuck on the stone. All this work was done by hand and very time consuming.

Jim reports the materials used in sandblasting have changed from silicone sand, which was very dusty and a health hazard, to a man-made aluminum oxide which is less dusty.

The company has always stayed abreast of the newest developments in its field, acquiring the newest automated equipment. "But," says Jim, "we still have to hold the nozzle to get more depth in the lettering. Dad taught us how to shape flowers and leaves to give them depth. They're not a flat carving, but are done in deep relief. It's an area in which we're very strong. We make them as deep as possible to give a good shadow. We want it to last. We feel the depth gives better quality to our end product."

Jim anticipates using laser equipment in the future, following in his father's footsteps as always willing to try the latest technology. John D. purchased the first wire saw used in Kansas in 1955. At that time, there were 150 in the world. It was a major investment which could saw rough slabs smoother and faster than the gang saw, cutting through granite at a speed of about 16 inches in minute. The cuts can be made as thin as a quarter inch. Granite slabs, seven feet by four feet, weigh up to five tons can be handled. The wire itself doesn't touch the granite, but the abrasive flows along the braided, temp

Marcella has always work in the office and in sales. She took Jim, a tiny tot, with her on sales calls. She says Jim knew every cemetery in the county before he was five years old. If she forgot something, she'd ask him. As the children grew up, they worked in the business. In 1959, son John graduated and went to work for the family firm and, in 1968, Jim graduated and came into the business. During their younger years, they swept floors and with graduation they learned to guide the polishers and were eventually introduced to the design work. They learned by doing as their father passed on his knowledge, with one of the major features being deep carving of letters and designs. Their sister Mary Heidrick also did a lot of press cutting stencils and her husband, Ron, was in production for a time.

John, Jr., was with the company until November 1990 when he began marketing to monument dealers on a nation-wide basis Bell's CAD Advantage, a computerized, stencil-cutting machine. John sells, delivers and trains the buyers in the machine's use.

In 1964, John, Sr., received a government contract for producing granite markers for veterans. The first year they produced 240 markers a month and for the following nine years, they produced 400 a month. The wire saw was used to cut the 2' x 1' x 4" slabs, which were sand blasted, lettered, and sand finished. Twelve to fifteen people were employed to produce the markers. The granite was shipped in, 100,000 pounds at a time in ten to twelve foot slabs. This project lasted until 1974 when the Bells voluntarily relinquished their contract.

Jim said, "We have Veterans Administration markers in every state but Hawaii."  Located in the facilities between the railroad tracks, the Bells kept adding connecting buildings to house the new machinery. By 1975, the buildings had outlived their usefulness so John, Sr., and Marcella purchased the present building across the street and at the north end of the block, 301 South River.

The new building had been constructed in 1899 as a livery stable. It took on new character in the 1930s when it, too, left the horse and buggy days and became a garage and car dealership. By 1970, it was a warehouse for new cars. The outside of its foot thick block walls had a sandstone finish and the brick front was painted to match. On the inside, a complete renovation was accomplished with the wire saw and the rigid suspension polishing machine located in the back of the building to reduce the noise. The polishing machine can handle a piece
of granite 13' x4'. All the interior walls were insulated for sound. Dust control is achieved by a Reumalin Collector which has a capacity three times the normal need.

Lettering and design cutting of the monuments is done with air compressors which produce 300 cu. ft. of air a minute at 100 lb pressure. This is done in the shape carving room and two abrasive blast rooms. The shape carving room is designed to allow the operator to work outside the blasting area. One of the blasting machines is manually operated to does the curved lines and special lettering. Bell Memorials is noted for its naturally contoured flowers on its monument, which requires hand work. The other blasting machine is an air hydraulic operated device that needs only a minimum amount of operator supervision.

The design and drafting room is just behind the reception area and features white walls and bright, fluorescent lighting. The computerized stencil cutting machine is located there.

Bell Memorials purchased their first such computerized stencil cutting machine in 1985 from Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. in Connecticut, becoming the fifth monument business in the nation to be using the enhanced equipment. The machine has a full library of. monument designs and new ones can be created on it. It letters and prints on a sheet of rubber and cuts out so when the rubber is placed on the stone the patterns can be carved. It is fast and precise, allowing one person to do the work of two.

With the computer it is possible to personalize the markers, making a statement of the individual's profession, hobby or interest. Jim has said, "A monument is for the living. It's a way for the person to be remembered."

The personalization is accomplished as combines, airplanes, sheaves of wheat, farmyards, etc are carved either in relief style or etched into the stone. It's the family who decides what they want to memorialize the loved one. Jim recalls the company was able to match detail for detail a favorite old truck for one client. Music lovers can have notes on a staff of their favorite song.Childrens names are listed and favorite scriptures are recorded.

The personalization of the monument has led to people selecting their own stones and having them personalized in advance of their deaths. Jim thinks it's a good idea because it takes the pressure off relatives and allows the purchasers to see it. Frequently, the individuals purchase their cemetery gravesite and have their marker set.

For many years, Bell Memorials confined their services to the retail business, marketing in the local thirty-to-forty mile trade area. Not long after Jim and Ruth were married in 1983, Bell Memorials expanded the business and began wholesaling to other dealers around the state and in Nebraska. They have now become regional. The company offers the dealers finished, lettered markers or turn-key services in which they also set the monuments.

Ruth joined the firm in 1990, after Josh was in school. To make them a full service company, Bell Memorials also restores and resets monuments. The Bells have never been known to idle away time. In the monument business there are cycles of activity, with Memorial Day being the major dead line. In the periods of slower activity, their entrepreneurism has created new businesses for them. Using the computerized stencil cutting machine, they have developed Bell Signs, a division of Bell Memorials. Their variety of signs include: vehicle graphics, window signs, sandblasted signs, graphic and logo design and magnetic signs.

To compliment this area as being the Land of the Post Rock, the Bell's also do post rock yard markers, sandblasting family, or business names onto them.

Going from one extreme to another, from solid to fragile, the Bell's sand blasted Victorian glass is another demonstration of their expertise. To learn the skills old craftsmen used in making etched glass, the Bells had old instructions written in German translated and have adapted the hand-made art into modem technology. The items they create provide unique gifts, customized to the occasion such as weddings, anniversaries, pictures of windmills, farmsteads, animals, etc.

The Bells have also played a significant role in the Save the Depot fund raising project. For it, they have created thirty-eight transom windows which were sold to members of the
community. Each of the windows has an etched train engine. To be able to reproduce the authentic engines, the Bells found another old book which had almost camera-ready detailed pictures of a large variety of locomotives. Those designs were put into the computer for the Depot project.

To illustrate the Bells' belief in being on the "cutting edge",
purchased a site on the Internet, which is going on-line in this area. The site displays in color their picture-framed etched glass pieces and provides the necessary ordering information.

Shop the Internet! The Bells will serve you well.

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