Wayzata’s Bette Hammel is a highly respected Twin Cities author, with a career that spans topics and decades—and it all started in a St. Paul newsroom. Bette’s dad, Whitey Jones, was a likeable guy. Working in the St. Paul Pioneer Press mailroom, he occasionally brought along his young daughter when he visited the reporters in the newsroom. The rhythmic clicks and clacks, dings and zzzzzips of the typewriters left a lasting impression on young Bette. After studying journalism at the University of Minnesota and graduating in 1947, she entered the world of advertising as a copywriter.
General Mills was Hammel’s first home, where she wrote Betty Crocker scripts for NBC radio; a few other jobs followed. But the gold standard was a career in the advertising world’s mecca: New York City. The ad men in the Big Apple advised Hammel to use her contacts back in Minneapolis to get more radio and television experience. She took the advice.
Hammel returned to Minneapolis to work in advertising agencies. “It was such a time,” she says. “The ’50s were good years.” Women were behind the wheel of most of the nation’s shopping carts, and advertising firms were starting to take notice. “The ad world was the one place women were needed,” she says, since women were best suited to pen jingles and relatable ads for products that appealed to other women. Hammel worked as a copywriter for the Cream of Wheat account, and would put her creative stamp on a multitude of accounts for several agencies during her nearly 25 years in the business.
Then she switched gears and began freelancing in public relations. “I really enjoyed that a whole lot more,” she says. “I was sick and tired of writing about Old Dutch potato chips.” And the varied path of her career continued. Little did she realize that, when she married Richard Hammel in 1970, her career would take an unexpected turn. Richard Hammel co-founded HGA Architects and Engineers in 1953, and the firm grew to become a major force in the industry. Sadly, Richard died suddenly in 1986. Knowing about his wife’s writing talents and commitment to the firm, the partners at the time asked Hammel to document the history of HGA and to help preserve Richard’s legacy. “That’s when I learned the language of architecture,” she says. The result was From Bauhaus to Bow Ties: HGA Celebrates 35 Years, published in 1989.
Hammel continued to delve into the world of architecture, specifically in the Twin Cities. It was her devotion to Richard and her desire to stay connected to him through his love of architecture that inspired her to continue with the topic. “This probably was one of the reasons I starting writing these books,” she says.
Now, at age 90, Hammel still has plenty to write about. “She has a lot of energy, and she’s interested in everything,” says Ellen Green, Hammel’s editor. Green says Hammel illuminates the beauty of buildings and recognizes the spirit of the people who designed them. “It’s really pointing out and showing you don’t have to know everything about architecture to enjoy it,” Green says. But architecture might have a rival in Hammel’s heart: Lake Minnetonka, where she often sailed with her husband as members of the Minnetonka Yacht Club. In addition to the beauty of the lake, Hammel is enamored with its storied past. “The history is so fascinating,” she says.
“I just enjoy the act of writing,” Hammel adds. With every stroke of her computer keys, she plays the same tune as those newsmen she watched so many years ago. “I didn’t become a real journalist until after my husband’s death,” Hammel says. “I guess I’m fulfilling my wish.”
Hammel’s newest book, Wild About Architecture, is available at amazon.com and area booksellers. It chronicles her work as an architectural writer, with personal narratives, interviews with architects, and travel adventures.