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January, 2022 for Immediate Release

Redding, CA (Janurary 21, 2022)

I have sad news to deliver, that Christel Pella passed away, in the evening of Thursday, January 13th, 2022.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Theodore Pella; her daughter Stephanie Pella Mills; and her grandchild Christen Joy. She is survived by her son Thomas and daughter-in-law Diane; her three grandchildren, Claire, Cornelia and Cameron; her nephew Frank; and her niece Frauke and her husband Wolfgang, and their children, Lea and Matthias.

In between the time of her passing and this announcement, her brother Manfred passed on January 17th, being survived by Marga Dierks.

What I remember about Mom was her love and dedication to family; her sense of adventure; her ethic of hard work and careful financial management; her graciousness and hospitality; and the entrepreneurial spirit that is captured in her work over more than 40 years starting and managing two successful companies, Pelco International and Ted Pella, Inc.

Christel was born on Dec. 17th, 1927 in Bad Oldesloe, a small village north of Hamburg, in the time period of post-WWI Northern Germany. Mom grew up in Germany’s great postwar Depression. Mom’s view on life was marked by the hard lessons of those times. Chris was 14 when WWII began. Chris’ parents sent her away to a boarding school in the far South of Germany, so that she might avoid being involved in the war as much as possible.

After the War, once again Germany’s economy was ruined. There were no jobs. In 1948, at 19 years old Mom moved to Sweden to find a job.After working in a doctor’s office, she eventually took a job in the early 50’s as a technician in the lab of Dr. Fritiof Sj√∂strand, the head of a biological research lab at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, a medical university.

The Transmission Electron Microscope had been recently invented and commercialized, and this lab had received one of the first commercial TEMs. Things were being seen and discovered for the first time. Mom learned how to use that electron microscope, and she became one of the first people who ever saw the ultrastructure of a cell; that is, the very small parts, the organelles that make up a cell which no one knew existed and could not be seen before that time.

Mom was involved with preparing samples, including using the newly-developed ultramicrotome to cut tissue into nanometer-thin sections.

It was about this same time that the LKB company making that ultramicrotome sent a group of it’s American sales engineers to the company headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden for a 6-week training course on their instruments. Among that group was an aspiring fellow named Ted Pella.

Christel was one of the people doing the training. It was through this training session that Christel was introduced to Ted, and they fell in love. Mom then embarked on another adventure: Emigrating to the USA via ship, becoming a resident and eventually a citizen of the USA. From that time on they were a team; they always worked together. They were married a total of 60 years.

By early 1966 Ted was in charge of the US division of LKB, and they offered him the position of corporate VP of Sales at the headquarters in Sweden. The family moved to Sweden and stayed there through the end of 1967.

Ted and Chris took the family on a vacation in the summer of 1967 on an island in the Mediterranean off the coast of what used to be Yugoslavia. Dad was the Vice President of Sales for LKB in Sweden, but Ted was not a good fit for the Swedish culture and the home office. One day while the family was on the beach, Ted asked Chris the question, “How would you like to start our own EM business?” To which Chris replied, “How do you do that?” Dad said, “Don’t worry, I know everything we need to start the business”, and Christel said, “OK”! At least Mom knew the science side of the business. Mom had a sense of adventure, and this one would last for over 40 years.

They moved us back to the USA to start Ted Pella, Inc. in early 1968 in Southern California. It was a home-based business with the office in the den and the inventory and shipping in the garage. I grew up as a kid seeing that.

Mom and Dad worked long hours and the business grew. After a few years we moved, and then a few more years later they got a separate office and employees. Most of their business was in the domestic USA; but being an immigrant herself Chris sensed the potential for international sales, and at the time there was a special federal tax incentive to start an export business.

The timing was good, so in 1976 Chris and Ted started Pelco International. The tax incentive went away soon thereafter but she stuck with it. Ted was the President of Ted Pella, Inc. and Chris was the President of Pelco International. It was up to her to make it succeed; and succeed, it did. She was trilingual; she understood how to work with people from other countries; and she figured out how to conduct international business “in the trenches”.

By the time I joined the business in 1998, there were three Pelco International employees and around 20 distributors. But Chris still spent some of her time packing orders. Ted and Chris travelled internationally, visiting distributors and attending trade shows with those distributors.

As both companies grew it finally became clear that having the companies separate was too administratively difficult, so Pelco International was merged into Ted Pella, Inc. in 2007. But Chris remained in charge of the International Division of Ted Pella, Inc. to the time of her retirement in 2014. At that time International had over 30 distributors. 

Even though Chris and Ted are both gone now, I’ve worked to help their DNA to be a permanent part of the company. They were all about serving customers. They were all about doing quality work, selling quality products. They wanted to help scientists advance science. They established those foundations; we build on them every day.

Tom Pella
Ted Pella, Inc.