In 1912, at the age of 21, Hugh J. Bell left his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin to start a funeral business in Duluth, Minnesota. Hugh had a slow start to his business and in 1914 was joined by his brother, Thomas G. Bell, Sr., creating Bell Brothers Funeral Home. A railroad engineer, astute businessman and community-oriented individual, Thomas Bell did much public speaking and was active in many groups and organizations including Masons, Toastmasters, and the Duluth Athletic Club. He served as president of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association and was inducted into the Duluth Hall of Fame in 1955 for his outstanding service to the Duluth community. He was known to have assisted students in helping fund their college education.
In 1921, Bell Brothers relocated to the corner of Cody Street and 56th Avenue West, remodeling two private homes for the business. In 1925, Hugh passed away unexpectedly at the age of 34. The only child of Thomas Sr., Thomas G. Bell, Jr. served as a Navy pilot during World War II, and was very community-oriented like his father. He took on many responsibilities in the funeral industry as well as the Duluth community. He married Elinor Miller Spicer in Corpus Christi, Texas, and together they raised their six children in Duluth.
Three of Thomas Jr.’s sons, Thomas G. III, Frank Spicer and Charles Miller, got their start in the family business by washing its fleet of cars in the summertime. After finishing college, Tom, Charlie and Frank joined their father in the family business. Thomas III became a licensed funeral director and embalmer, joining the business in 1970 after a brief career teaching at Shattuck School in Faribault, Minnesota. Tom served in many leadership positions in the Duluth community and was president of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association. After graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Frank S. Bell created Belmar, a business that sold monuments, markers, and fiberglass burial vaults. He served as president of Goodwill Industries twice and was a two-term president of U.S. Selected Service for the Duluth area. Charles M. Bell, the youngest of the three, joined the business in 1973 after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the University of Minnesota School of Mortuary Science. He served as a funeral director and embalmer. In 2005, Charlie was elected into the Duluth Hall of Fame, exactly 50 years after his grandfather, Thomas G., Sr. was elected.
In 1974, Tom, Frank and Charlie purchased Bell Brothers from their father. They each followed their father’s example of community involvement and were active in numerous groups, organizations and causes, including West Duluth Businessmen’s Club, Masons, Rotary, the Boys and Girls Club of Duluth, Ordean Foundation, and the Duluth Chamber of Commerce.
Thomas G. Bell, Jr. passed away in 1982. After developing a solid reputation in West Duluth, the remaining brothers saw the opportunity for expansion into East Duluth. In 1986, they purchased the Jarvi Dowd funeral home in East Hillside, Duluth, and successfully grew that business by 50 percent.
By 1993, Bell Brothers had grown to become the largest funeral service provider in Duluth, employing 15 full-time staff and serving more than 500 families annually. In 1998, the brothers sold the business to an affiliate company of Service Corporation International, but continued to remain active in its operations after the sale.
Hugh J. Bell and Thomas G. Bell, Sr. began Bell Brothers with a commitment to a high standard of service. Throughout our history, we’ve been leaders and innovators while maintaining that high standard. Everyone at Bell Brothers and Jarvi Dowd Funeral Home is proud to uphold our heritage and commitment to the community.