Katie Carlen Bell
1923 - 2013
Beautiful “Katie” left this earth to join her heavenly family Jan. 19, 2013.
She was born May 9, 1923 in Hidalgo, Jasper County, Ill., near Liberty Hill, south of Greenup, to the late Lowell C. “Bump” and Mary I. Sowers-Dunn.
She was married to the late Ira L. “Johnny” Carlen, son of the late Ira L. Carlen and Lucille Sights Carlen of Greenup, Ill. Mr. Carlen passed away June 19, 1957 leaving her to raise their seven children; moving, after his death, to Toledo, Ill. to be closer to her work. After her children were grown and scattered she later married Merrill Bell of Payson in 1975 where she spent 12 years of her life in a state she loved before returning to her daughters in Tennessee.
She lived in Mt. Pleasant working for Ross Ins. Agency and later with Polk Memorial Gardens Office and helped with many visitations with Williams Funeral Home. She was a member of New Song Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant, founded, and nurtured by her son, Rev. Daniel Carlen.
Her parents formed a trio with their three daughters — Katie, age 10, Rosie, 8, and Gloria, 5 — known as The Dunn Sisters. Surviving the Great Depression as child entertainers, Katie learned to play the guitar, singing lead and yodeling; her father played the fiddle, and the girls sang harmony. The Dunn Sisters entertained at square dances with their father and entered amateur singing contests, beating out Burl Ives, who later became a great folk singer and radio/TV entertainer. The contest led them to being hired by the third oldest radio station in the U.S. — WDZ in Tuscola, Ill. — and working with Smiley “Frog” Burnett, who moved on to serve as the featured sidekick of Gene Autry in Hollywood Westerns. Their next move was to WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio where Katie, at 14, met and worked with singer Red Foley and Homer & Jethro. The Dunn Sisters traveled on to WLS Chicago to KARK in Little Rock, Ark. where Katie played and performed with Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. They traveled extensively throughout Illinois, Kentucky Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas before returning to their home where she met the love-of-her life, her beloved Johnny.
After his early death, she raised her seven children while working for the WLBH Radio Station in Mattoon, Ill., serving as the first woman’s director. She remained musically active, working with the local funeral homes and singing for many, many families at a time of loss and as the music leader at Hidalgo Baptist Church in its early years.
Mrs. Bell was the well-known vocalist performing for eight years with “The Gene Trimble Dance Band” appearing at college dances, high school proms, Elks Clubs, the Moose Lodges, VFW Halls, American Legion Clubs, local county fairs and local military bases throughout central Illinois. She also worked as society editor for the Charleston Courier Newspaper in Charleston, Ill. All the while, she penned and sang her faith having several gospel songs published by Benson Publishing Co. in Nashville, Tenn. after her move to Mattoon. She retired in Payson because of her great love of the West. She owned and operated two restaurants while there, later joining the Kohl’s Ranch Lodge near the Tonto Rim.
While living on the grounds of Kohl’s Ranch, Katie researched and published a historical study, “The Legend of Kohl’s Ranch” — a place she found joyful employment and good friends.
She was a wonderful, kind, generous friend. As her children grew, many evenings were spent at her feet with her black Gibson guitar in hand, playing their favorite requests for sing-a-longs. She surrounded her children with music, love and laughter. Her courage surviving the loss of their father was supported by both sets of loving grandparents and a never-failing prayer life and Bible study.
Mrs. Bell had four sons, Larry (Susie) Carlen of Ashmore, Ill., John (Linda Hopwood) Carlen of Pittsburgh, Pa., Rev. Daniel (Teresinha de Lima) Carlen serving as a missionary tin Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Rev. Michael (Jean Kilgore) Carlen of Houston, Texas; and three daughters, twins, Joanelle “Jodi” Blevins-Duren (Gary) of Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., the late Rochelle (Richard) Germer, who has waited for a reunion in heaven since 1996; and Deborah (David) Ruiz of Goodlettsville, Tenn. Also surviving are two sisters, Rosie McMorris-Baker of Charleston, Ill. and Gloria McClure of Springfield, Ill. There are 25 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren surviving. Mrs. Bell also leaves behind special nieces and nephews and special family friends.
Grandsons and great-grandsons will serve as pallbearers at the graveside service where she will finally lay beside her beloved Johnny.
She never wavered from deep faith to see her through her life and to prayerfully instill in her children that God is our strength and our guide for life. Yes, mother ... it’s roundup time in heaven! We love you ... Happy Trails,” writes her family.
The family will gather to celebrate her life with a visitation and service at Williams Funeral Home in Mt. Pleasant, Tenn. A graveside visitation and service will be held at 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 26 at Aten Cemetery in Hidalgo, Ill., where four generations of her family are buried.
Donations may be made to Feed the Children, a favorite organization.