From her beginnings as an art teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, to her gifts of five iconic art displays to Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus, Helen Wessel has spent a lifetime supporting the arts and bringing beauty to the lives of students.
“Old art teachers never die, they don’t fade away,” she joked at a 90th birthday celebration held July 7, 2015, in her honor at the campus. “They blast away. So I thought I’d blast away at Embry-Riddle.”
During the past two decades, Wessel has funded the installation of artwork at the Daytona Beach Campus that is now woven into the fabric of the student experience. “Embry-Riddle is forever grateful to Dr. Wessel for inspiring balance between the analytical and creative mind through her unique contributions,” says Interim University President John R. Watret.
In addition to her contributions of art, Wessel established the Dr. Helen Wessel Arts and Cultural Experience Fund to support a wide variety of cultural programs and initiatives on the Daytona Beach Campus.
“The beauty to our campus and the enhanced educational opportunities provided by Helen Wessel’s gifts truly provide a most important missing link for our university,” says William Grams, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Growing up in Cincinnati, Wessel was an avid artist from a young age. She studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy in high school and earned degrees in art and education from the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture and Art. She went on to teach art in the Cincinnati public schools for 10 years.
While teaching in Massachusetts, Wessel became one of the first students to earn her master’s degree from Harvard University’s art education program. She earned a Ph.D. in Art Education from the University of Cincinnati, and then spent 20 years educating art teachers at the university, eventually becoming head of the department.
Shared Birth Year
Coincidentally, Wessel and Embry-Riddle were both born 90 years ago in Cincinnati, Ohio, but their relationship solidified later in life. Wessel’s late husband, Bob, an economist who also taught at the University of Cincinnati, was a savvy investor—the fruits of which resulted in the founding of the Wessel Foundation in 1996, with a goal of supporting art and education. He also loved to fly. His widow recalled a chance encounter she had earlier in life with the history of the Embry-Riddle Company, which was established on Dec. 17, 1925, at Lunken Field in Cincinnati.
“Bob flew a little yellow airplane, a Piper Cub,” she says. “He would fly it out of Lunken Airport, where Embry-Riddle was started. One time we left the car there in the hangar, and I noticed a sign on the wall that said, ‘Embry-Riddle University started here in 1925.’ I thought, ‘That’s interesting, I started the same year in Cincinnati.’”
After moving to Daytona Beach, Fla., Wessel continued to create art in her home studio and advocate for art education for children and adults. Her relationship with Embry-Riddle started after she struck up a friendship with Col. Charles “Chuck” D. Fountain (‘72, DB), who spent 18 years as the university’s director of business and director of facilities. Fountain died in 2011. In 2012, Wessel donated a bronze plaque depicting “World War I, the Birth of Air Combat,” in his honor. The plaque was installed in the Legacy Walk at the Daytona Beach Campus.
“I have collaborated with Helen on three of the sculptures installed at Embry-Riddle and have appreciated her unique blend of creativity and warmth,” says Tim Brady, interim chancellor at the Daytona Beach Campus. “She has added immensely to the culture of the university.”
Art Makes a Campus a Home
Works commissioned by Helen Wessel for the Daytona Beach Campus