Wahl, Bennett to join MHS Hall of Fame

Florence Wahl was one of Milaca’s first businesswomen.

Belle Bennett was an early star of stage and screen.

Both will be inducted into the Milaca High School Hall of Fame Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Milaca American Legion banquet room.

They will join six others in what will be the Hall of Fame’s third induction ceremony.

 

Florence D. Wahl

Wahl was a Milaca business woman from the 1930s to the 1960s. She and her husband Ole owned and operated the Wahl Beverage Company, “the Coke Plant,” where she was the bookkeeper.  After his death in 1936 she became the sole proprietor.

Florence was one of the few business women in Milaca during those times. She managed a crew of up to a dozen male employees. Her firm also distributed other sodas and several brands of beer. She sold the plant to Coca Cola of St Cloud when she retired in 1966.

Florence was a member of many service and social organizations in the Milaca area, including Current Events Club, Civic Club, and East Central Library Board. She was also active for many years in the Trinity Lutheran Church and the local Republican Party.

Her step-daughter Jeanne died at age 19 from tuberculosis and step-son Owen died in World War II over Italy in 1945. Her daughter Dorothy Soderlund was a home economics teacher in central Minnesota and taught 22 years at Milaca High School.

 

Belle Bennett

Belle Bennett, born in Milaca in 1891 was a vaudeville, stage, and film actress who has a star on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame.” Her mother and grandparents are buried in Wendell Hill Cemetery in Bogus Brook Township.

She grew up in Milaca and attended Milaca Schools. During summers Belle performed with her parents’ traveling tent show, “Billy Bennett’s Big Shows,” which headquartered in Milaca. The Bennetts also held vaudeville and drama performances across the Midwest in local theaters. By 1907 Belle was being billed as having a leading role in the Bennett dramas.

She later moved on and mixed legitimate stage productions from New York to San Francisco and other cities with her movie career.  In 1916 she made 16 two and three reel movies. Belle starred with many of the great actors of the early silent movie era including Ronald Coleman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jean Hersholt, Emil Jennings, and others.

She was a strong business woman and publicly battled with legendary producer Sam Goldwyn. Never-the-less, she auditioned with Goldwyn for the lead role in the film  “Stella Dallas” (1925) and won the role over 73 other actresses. One critic said, “If the Academy Awards had existed in 1925, Belle would probably have won Best Actress Award for her title role.”

Belle was nominated for best actress for the film “The Way of All Flesh” (1928). She is considered one of the outstanding leading ladies of the silent movie era. The last five of her 86 movies were “talkies,” where she usually was still given top billing. Her career was cut short by her death from cancer at age 41.

 

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The other inductees in the Hall of Fame Class of 2013 include Milaca alumni Dean Isaacson, professor and co-director of Graduate Studies at Iowa State University, trick shooter/shotgun showman Tom Knapp, business and civic leader John Kuether, civic leader and current city council member Ken Muller and longtime banker and community volunteer Jeanette (Stromberg) DeHart. Non-alumni inductees are former Milaca teacher/coach Merl Soderstrom and Wahl.

Kuether and Knapp are also deceased. Knapp died April 26.

Tickets for the luncheon are $15 and are available at First National Bank and the Milaca High School District Office, or by emailing Dave Leom at david.leom@milaca.k12.mn.us.

There will be a social time at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon at 11:30 and the induction ceremony at 12:15.

There is no charge to attend the induction ceremony, however, seating is limited.

The Milaca High School Hall of Fame acknowledges former students, school personnel or community members who have brought special recognition to themselves or to Milaca High School by demonstrating high qualities of character and leadership during of following their time at MHS.

The 2013 class will be the third group chosen by the Hall of Fame Committee.

Marlain Brufloldt, Herb Claffy, Gerald Lang, Marian Hansen Majerle, Paul Olson, Harold Pluimer and Paul Trimble were the first inductees in 2009. Pete and Thora Allen, Dave Hubers, Bud Wessman, Sheila Peterson, Earl Eli, Gigi Chawla and Karen Reineke were inducted in 2011.

Plaques honoring members of the Milaca High School Hall of Fame are on display near the entrance to the gymnasium at Milaca High School.

September 14 is also the date for the annual Ultra Golf Tournament at Stones Throw Golf Course. That event is held in the afternoon.

Editor’s note: Profiles of Kuether, Isaacson, DeHart, Muller, Knapp and Soderstrom will be published in the Sept. 5 and Sept. 12 Times.

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