"Sorry, girls, but good night boys!" - Retta Bede
(Retta was the housemother in the girl's dorm (Robertson Hall) and she would say this to the boys and girls in the vestibule when it was time for the girls to report to the dorm at night.) On Weeknights that was at 7PM and on the weekends they had until 10PM.
"If the shoe doesn't fit, don't put it on." - Retta Bede
"She watched the girls bobby socks and if they were down around their ankles she gave them a demerit. I think she tried to instill in the girls that attended the NWSA good posture, manners, and appearance."
"They appreciated her concern for the students. She wanted them to be good citizens. Dining in Bede Hall gave her an opportunity to interact with the students three times a day." - Donald Sargeant - Chancellor Emeritus and Professor
I am Virginia Thirlkel. Retta Bede was my aunt—dearly loved by all her nieces and nephews. She thoroughly enjoyed her years at the Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA). The faculty, staff, and student body were all her second family and she brought home to Duluth, Minnesota stories of her involvement with them as well as accounts of activities that went on with campus life in general. It was not unusual to have members of her second family drop in to visit while she was in Duluth. After I graduated from high school, I spent the 1935-36 school year at the NWSA, living in Robertson Hall and taking two classes. So, I have my own fond memories of that time and the people I knew there. (I also remember that as being a very cold winter!)
During her fall and winter months while she was on campus, she taught courses in Home Economics. One course was home management when girls in small numbers lived in the home management quarters where they planned, cooked, and served their own meals, in addition to learning some of the fine points of entertaining. Over the years, I had occasion to come in contact with a few of the girls who had fond memories of her and their experience there.
And of course, she was house mother in Robertson Hall. I’m sure there are generations of young people, now grown, who have memories and stories to tell of that time. She conducted summer camps at the school where she demonstrated the latest cooking techniques and equipment and many of the people who attended the camps will also remember her judging at the county fairs. She was well known and remembered in that whole northwest section of the state.
Aunt Retta had a wonderful sense of humor and was a master of quick repartee. When the old dining hall was dedicated in her honor, she was truly pleased. At that time, I told her I thought that was quite and honor, and she said, “Well, we’re both old and falling apart!” She would also be pleased, as we are, to know that the ballroom in the new building will bear her name, and that the china hutch moved form the old building to the Heritage Room in Kiehle Hall will be known as the Bede hutch. That the school chose to continue her name in these ways is a tribute in itself.
My Aunt Retta was born in Anacostia, District of Columbia on September 5, 1890 and the family moved to Pine City, Minnesota in 1900. She attended school in Pine City and after graduating from high school went to the University of Minnesota graduating with a degree in home economics. Until she came to the NWSA in 1925, she taught grade school classes in both Walker and Keewatin, Minnesota. In 1927, the family moved to Duluth and that was home from then on through all her years of retirement.
In her retirement, she lived with her sister, Helen, and they led a full and busy life. They had many friends in Duluth, and she was active in two or three organizations as well as volunteering at St. Luke’s Hospital. They traveled frequently in this country and in 1963 took a very extensive trip abroad. On that trip, they stopped in Baghdad to visit their niece, Marjorie Akins, whose husband was with the State Department and was posted there. A place that certainly holds special significance today.
She and Aunt Helen owned a cottage on Long Lake just west of Duluth where they spent their summers. They had company all summer every summer. She once told me she had made up as many as ten beds at one time. She was, to use her expression, as busy as a cranberry merchant. They had a rowboat, and there were fishing poles and a fire pit for bonfires at night. It was a wonderful place for family and friends to gather. And, it was there we gathered to celebrate her 80th birthday.
In 1978, she and Aunt Helen moved to a retirement community where they had an apartment. In 1979, Aunt Helen died and Aunt Retta continued to live there until June of 1980 when she suffered a major heart attack. After that heart attack, she moved to Benedictine Health Center where a wonderful staff treated her as family. She was somewhat frail but getting around quite well. Then a little after a year there, on October 26, 1981 she slipped away in her sleep. She was 91 years old.
Editor’s note: Retta Bede is survived by four nieces and one nephew, Virginia Thirlkel, Marjorie Akins, Nancy Foster, Eva Joell, and John Bede. This article was written by Virginia on behalf of all of them. Retta Bede was from Duluth, Minnesota and held her B.S. from the University of Minnesota. The 1934 yearbook says about her: “Her infectious laughter brightens many a homesick heart. Interestingly gay, saucily winsome, and conversationally intelligent.” This article is a tribute to a lady whose influence has been felt by generations of Northwest Schoolers and whose memory lives on in our hearts.
Retta Bede’s Raisin Bars
Contributed by Retta’s niece, Eva Joell from California
1 c. water
1 c. raisins
½ c Mazola oil
1 c. sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
13/4 c. flour
¼ t. salt
1 t. soda
1 t. cinnamon
½ t cloves
½ c. walnuts, optional
Bring water and raisins to boil. Remove from heat. Add Mazola oil. Then cool.
Sift of mix together the flour, salt, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add the sugar, egg, and flour mixture to the cooled raisin mixture.
Mix well and then add nuts chopped
Bake at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes in a greased 9 by 13 pan.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. It may also be served plain with ice cream or whipped cream.
Retta Bede’s Graham Muffins
Contributed by Retta’s niece, Virginia Thirlkel from Ohio
Pour 1 cup hot water over 1 cup Bran Buds – let sit
½ c. shortening
1 ½ c. sugar
Cream sugar shortening and add eggs
2 ½ c. flour
2 ½ t. soda
5/8 t. salt
1 pint buttermilk
Mix dry ingredients and add alternately with buttermilk to creamed mixture.
Add 2 cups All Bran cereal
Fold in Bran Buds
Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 – 25 minutes or at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes.
This batter will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.