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Lifelong love of libraries leads to couple’s philanthropic support of Hunter Library

hunter library


By Bill Studenc

A North Carolina couple’s lifelong affinity for libraries has inspired them to direct gifts and pledges totaling $25,000 to Western Carolina University to provide a boost for initiatives and services provided by Hunter Library.

In addition to their initial contributions, Fleming and Margaret Bell, of Bryson City and Asheboro, also have made arrangements for the endowed fund to be supplemented by a future gift from their estate.

The A. Fleming Bell and Margaret J. Bell Library Fund will be used to improve Hunter Library’s student support and engagement activities, programs and initiatives that enhance the visibility and utilization of library services, professional development programs for library faculty and staff, and travel and conference opportunities for students engaged with the library.

“We have chosen to make a philanthropic contribution to Hunter Library for several reasons. We see the library as a vital resource for all of the people of Western North Carolina, including members of the university community and other residents and visitors to our beautiful region,” said Fleming Bell, a professor who retired in 2014 from the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I also wanted to use part of the inheritance I received from my dear mother, Ann Bell, a longtime North Carolina public health nurse, to honor her. Mother grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina during the Great Depression, and she was the first in her family to attend college. I learned from her example how crucial a good education can be, both for broadening one’s perspective and for improving one’s life.”

In addition, the contributions are designed to recognize the Bells’ daughter, Lucretia Bell, who is a research support specialist for Hunter Library’s Scholar Studio and works in support of the reference department, said Margaret Bell.

“We would like to see our gift used to strengthen the Scholar’s Studio and to help with related endeavors that benefit students, faculty and community members in their library research,” she said. “Strengthening the reference function of Hunter is especially important to us.”

Chuck Thomas, WCU’s dean of library services, said private contributions such as the Bells’ make it possible for the library to offer increased services to patrons from the campus and surrounding community – especially students.

“Fleming and Margaret Bell’s generous gift will allow Hunter Library to support students in a variety of ways, including providing valuable employment and internship opportunities, adding new equipment to the Scholar Studio where they can create tangible products, and targeted events and programming to benefit students,” Thomas said. “All of these investments enhance the student experience while they are at WCU. I am grateful to the Bells for their support.”

the bells

Fleming and Margaret Bell, photo by Rachel Bell Martin.

The Bells trace their interest in academic libraries back to their own experiences as college students.

Margaret Bell was a student assistant in the Rare Book Room at Duke University’s Perkins Library during her undergraduate years at Duke. After graduating, she worked for several years in the Rare Book Collection at Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.

As a graduate student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC-Chapel Hill and later as a law student at Duke University, Fleming Bell was a frequent patron of the academic libraries at both institutions.

And, daughter Lucretia followed in her mother's footsteps, working as a student assistant in the Wyndham Robertson Library at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, throughout her undergraduate career there. 

That family history helps explain why the Bells have chosen to provide philanthropic support to libraries in general, but why are they making gifts to Hunter Library specifically?

Fleming Bell points to childhood experiences at WCU. “My fifth-grade teacher, Rollan Bullman, a native of Madison County, graduated from WCU,” he said. “Mr. Bullman took me to see Western Carolina's basketball team play at High Point College (now University). Henry Logan was on Western's team that year, and seeing his athletic prowess made quite an impression on a young boy.

The relationship with Western was strengthened in later years when Fleming Bell’s cousin, Louis Bell, was a student in Cullowhee. “Louis met his future wife, Pandora, at Western, and we remain in touch with her even though Louis died several years ago.”

Those connections to WCU evolved from familial to professional when Fleming Bell joined the faculty of the School of Government at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

“For nearly 40 years, the school and Western have collaborated in operating a program that brings faculty from Chapel Hill to Cullowhee and other localities in the western region several times each year to teach classes for local government officials,” Margaret Bell said. “Fleming has a certificate signed in Cullowhee by the then-chancellors of both universities on Jan. 5, 2005, commemorating the program's 20th anniversary.”

Fleming Bell taught frequently in the Local Government Training Program, and he also served as the School of Government liaison with WCU in administering the program for more than a decade until his retirement. He worked closely with Vickey Wade at WCU, now also retired, with whom he still remains in contact.

“Vickey was the linchpin, the key resource, who made the program work,” he said. For her contributions over many years to local and state government, Wade was awarded membership in the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, in a ceremony held at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government.

Prior to joining the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government faculty in 1982 – then known as the Institute of Government – Bell worked as a city-county planner in the city of Rockingham and Richmond County in North Carolina. He earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Duke University. He also earned a master's degree in regional planning from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Margaret Bell is a native of Franklin who was born in Angel Hospital. Her grandmother, Arrah Belle Wilson Johnson, owned and published The Franklin Press during the 1930s and 1940s, and is commemorated on the Macon County Women's History Trail.

The Bells also have become active with the Valley of Franklin of the Scottish Rite Masons, which has a long history of providing support for the WCU Speech and Hearing Clinic, located in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

The Bells recently purchased a home in Randolph County, where they grew up, to be closer to family.

“Despite this move back to the Piedmont, we plan to return to the mountains frequently to visit Lucretia and some of the friends whom we've made,” Fleming Bell said. “We look forward to spending time in Hunter Library and at other places at our favorite mountain university.”

The Bells’ contributions come as part of WCU’s “Fill the Western Sky” comprehensive fundraising campaign, an effort to raise $75 million for the university’s academic, student engagement and athletics programs. For more information or to make a contribution to the campaign, visit, call 828-227-7124 or email

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