Biography: Laree was born on August 25, 1936 in Ulm, Arkansas the third child born to the union of Billie Dukes and Annie Lambert-Dukes. Jasper, Florence and a younger sister, Christine, preceded her in death.
She confessed Christ at an early age, was baptized and united with the First Baptist Church in Stuttgart, Arkansas—she was product of both the Arkansas and New York cultures and school
Upon her high school graduation in Arkansas, her dad brought her to New York again to live with him. He was a Pastor of Saint John Baptist Church in Lakeview (West Hempstead). It was there that she met her future husband Clarence Bell, Jr; they were married in 1957.
After a year of marriage, they purchased a home in Amityville where they lived for several years. She joined the New Hope Institutional Baptist Church and became actively involved, and enrolled in business school. In 1963 Mark Anthony, a beautiful baby boy, entered their lives. Laree and Clarence were divorced in 1969. Laree and Mark moved to North Babylon, where she gained employment with the Long Island Lighting Company as a Customer Representative and became involved with the Suffolk County Branch of Long Island CORE (Congress of Racial Inequality)—the catalyst for change in her life.
In 1966 National Core and its educational arm, SEDF separated, and SEDFRE (Scholarship Education Defense Fund for Racial Equality) became an activist group dedicated to social change through education, grass roots organizing and leadership development in minority organizations from anti-poverty corporations to newly elected officials across the county. Laree joined SEDFRE as a secretary, and overtime became Director of Administration; on occasion traveling with and assisting trainers where necessary. She loved the daily commute from Long Island to Manhattan to a job so very fulfilling and exciting. She worked for SEDFRE for several years until it lost its funding.
After leaving SEDFRE, Laree was hired by the National Office of the American Lung Association, she and Mark moved to Flushing, and united with Ebenezer Baptist Church where she sang with the choir.
In the fall of 1981, Laree and her sister Florence, who lived in Baltimore, learned that their mother was terminally ill and moved home to take care of her. Their mother passed away in December of 1982, and in March of 1983 they returned home—Florence to Baltimore and Laree to New York, this time New York City, living temporarily with her aunt and uncle. She joined Mount Olivet
Baptist Church, her family’s church where she sang with the Sanctuary Choir, served as a Trustee, produced the Sunday Bulletins, taught Sunday School and served as Superintendent for five years. She did not allow the titles to define her; she was a servant and could be found cleaning, working the office, painting and etc.
God blessed her to return to the American Lung Association, her employer before leaving Arkansas. He blessed her with an apartment in a city owned building designated to become a Cooperative based on tenants proven management capability—and they did prove themselves. She was elected to serve as President of the Board of Directors. In 1984, the building became a Co-Op. After twenty years of membership at Mount Olivet Baptist Church, she joined Antioch Baptist Church, where she was appointed to the Mother’s Board of the church, produced the Sunday Bulletin and periodically taught Sunday School. After a short period of time, she joined Shiloh Baptist Church where she could be found in Sunday School,. Sunday Worship and weekly Bible Study.
She leaves to mourn her passing: a son, Mark Anthony (LaTunjha); aunt, Cora Butler (98 years old) three granddaughters: Jazzman, Jaylin and Talisa (Arkansas); stepson Jemel Harrigan; stepdaughter Desiree Harrigan (St. Thomas); nieces, nephews, and special close friends: Deaconess Gloria Gaston, Deacon Jerime Gaston whom she adopted as her little brother; Michelle Spruill, Erdene Greene, Helen Cheek and so many more special friends that she loved. We love you, but God loves you best!