News & Events
Clarkson Mourns Passing Of Its Benevolent Supporter, Friend, And Number One Hockey Fan, Helen Snell Cheel
[An image of Helen Cheel for newspaper use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/hcheel.jpg]
So who was this remarkable woman for whom the Clarkson University's Cheel Campus Center is named? And why did she become one of the most generous and beloved benefactors in the school's history? To answer those questions you have to go back to the early years of Clarkson and two more of the school's ardent supporters, Congressman Bertrand H. Snell and Sara Merrick Snell -- Helen's parents. As Helen once remarked, "I developed an early connection with Clarkson."
Bertrand Snell was a successful businessman who served northern New York as a U.S. congressman from 1915 to 1939, serving as minority leader of the House of Representatives for eight of those years. As a child, Helen accompanied her father on frequent visits to the White House as guests of two presidents and when Clarkson celebrated its 50th anniversary, Congressman Snell brought President Hoover to Potsdam to help mark the occasion.
Clarkson is founded on a legacy of philanthropy, beginning with the family of another successful Potsdam businessman Thomas Streatfeild Clarkson. When he died attempting to save one of his workers in a sandstone quarry accident, Clarkson's family began planning a fitting tribute to him. The Thomas S. Clarkson Memorial School of Technology opened its doors in 1896. It was in this spirit of generosity that Bertrand Snell made his first large gift to Clarkson in 1927. Bertrand and Sara contributed the funds that allowed Clarkson to complete the athletic fields, grandstand and dressing rooms that still bear the family name.
The retired congressman and his wife stepped up to the plate again in 1945 to purchase the Potsdam Normal School for Clarkson to use as an academic building. This sandstone edifice was a center of learning for Clarkson students for more than 50 years. Today, the Snell Hall downtown building still houses some of the University's administrative functions.
Like many young girls from prominent Northeast families, Helen received her secondary education at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, and like Clarkson, the school for young girls became a lifelong recipient of her love and financial support. Helen was a trustee of Emma Willard and in 1997 was on hand for the official opening of the Cheel Aquatic Center -- just one of the many improvements made possible by her generosity. Fearing that her beloved school would fall behind in the age of technology, Helen paid for a server and a direct line that allowed the school to become an Internet provider. At the Center's dedication, it was noted by one of the speakers that "Mrs. Cheel does not own a VCR but brought the Internet to Emma Willard."
After completing her studies at Emma Willard, Helen graduated from the Crane School of Music and in 1928 earned a B.S. in music from Columbia University. Soon, thereafter, she married Harold W. Cheel, a Yale graduate and successful Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, builder and residential developer. Cheelcroft, one of Harold's projects, was the first development in the United States with homes individually designed by a noted architect. Harold and Helen chose one of the Cheelcroft homes for their own and Mrs. Cheel maintained that residence until her death. The Cheels supported many humanitarian organizations, including the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, New Jersey -- one of the hospital's wings bears their name. After Harold's death in 1958, Mrs. Cheel continued to support several organizations and share her resources and energy with worthy causes for the remainder of her life. The Cheels had one son, Bertrand, a Clarkson alumnus who died in 1985, and a daughter, Barbara Anne, who died in childhood.
Helen Cheel's generous support of Clarkson University was evident for all to see in 1991 when she became the principal benefactor for the construction of a $14 million, 3,000-seat, multipurpose arena and campus center. Clarkson recognized Mrs. Cheel's gift to the University by naming the Center after her. The Cheel Arena, within the Cheel Campus Center, is also the home of Helen's cherished Golden Knights hockey team. On the occasion of her 100th birthday, Mrs. Cheel was presented with her very own #100 Golden Knights hockey jersey. In typical witty fashion, she quipped, "I will be ready now to suit up for next season." This jersey is part of the permanent display in the Campus Center honoring Mrs. Cheel. In addition to her substantial donation to the construction of the facility, Mrs. Cheel established a maintenance endowment to ensure that both the Center and surrounding grounds would be properly maintained.
At the Center's dedication, Helen had this to say: "Clarkson has always meant a great deal to me and members of my family, so it gives me great pleasure to assist in this important endeavor. My involvement in bringing the Cheel Campus Center to reality has brought me great satisfaction and moments of joy. I feel that it has added significantly to the appearance of the campus and to campus life. While I realize it will not be possible to replicate that experience, it has led me to consider what more I might do for Clarkson."
In 1995 Clarkson bestowed on Mrs. Cheel an Honorary Doctor of Science degree "for her lifelong loyalty, her profound generosity as a benefactor, and her magnificent contributions to the quality of campus life at the University." Campus flags will be lowered to half staff in honor of the University's dear friend and number one hockey fan. "Helen Cheel and the Snell family will always be synonymous with Clarkson," said Collins. "We mourn her passing and celebrate her remarkable life. Simply put, we have lost a dear friend and we will truly miss her."
PHOTO CAPTION: Mrs. Helen Snell Cheel, May 10, 1904, to March 18, 2005.