you're reading...

Cornelius News

Two who put others first remembered

Lula Bell Houston, a Cornelius resident, with Carol Quillen, president of Davidson College

By Dave Yochum. Two lives are merging at Davidson College, one cut too short, the other long and full; one white, one black. Both passionate about serving others.


The newly dedicated Student Resource Center on campus is called Lula Bell’s and resides in the already named Lula Bell Houston Laundry. Lula Bell, 94, is a fixture in the African American community in Cornelius. She worked her fingers to the bone in the college laundry for 60 years. 

The other life is Tom Anstrom, Davidson class of 2004. Like Lula Bell, he was devoted to his friends and family, gifted with a sense of humor and a strong intellect.

He later received a master’s degree in political management from George Washington University. His career included working on or managing political campaigns in Virginia and North Carolina, including the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry and Tim Kaine’s successful race for governor of Virginia.

Tom died suddenly on April 8, 2015, because of a longstanding heart condition. In his honor, friends and family created the Tom Anstrom internship program at Davidson, which provides summer funding to students, particularly those with financial need.

He would have reveled in the significance of Lula Bell’s resource center and its role in building equity and success on campus. Tom believed deeply that fostering equal opportunity was the key to a better world.

His parents, Sherry Hiemstra and Decker Anstrom, have generously supported Lula Bell’s resource center, where Lula Bell, sometimes called Mama Lu, washed clothes, flat-ironed sheets and welcomed students like Tom for 60 years.

Students sought her out for advice or to discuss events from the day. Her smile, genuine interest in others and gentle advice were treasured.

Lula Bell officially retired in 2004 and then returned to the laundry to work for three more years.

She is in failing health now and nearly blind. She no longer sings gospel music at Gethsemane Baptist Church in Davidson, but she did attend the dedication of the resource center on campus in October.

Administrators, professors and students lined up to say hello and pose for a picture with her. That night she ate dinner in the elegant president’s house on campus with Davidson College VIPs and family.

Lula Bell’s resource center will provide less-advantaged students with professional and winter clothing, textbooks, food and kitchen supplies.

Along with resources for all students, the space will host innovative and informative programming around life skills, such as financial literacy, and systemic social issues, and will be a centralized hub for all students to study, hang out, grab a suit for an interview or borrow a pot for cooking.