Updated: Oct 8, 2020
SAN BERNARDINO >> The founder and namesake of The Original Mommie Helen’s Bakery, renowned by celebrities and locals for her pies and widespread friendship, has died. She was 69.
San Bernardino native “Mommie Helen” — whose given name was Dorothy Pryor Rose, but inherited the title of Mommie Helen from her mother, Helen Williams — opened the family-run bakery in 2000 in Colton and outgrew two locations before moving to San Bernardino in March 2015.
Her customers included Oprah, Shaquille O’Neal — he ordered 250 peach cobblers from the bakery for his wedding, Rose had previously said — and Magic Johnson. Glancing at a wall of celebrity photos at Mommie Helen’s on Friday, though, her husband, Bobbie Rose, said she never followed sports.
“She treated those athletes the same as anyone else,” he said. “Her customers were her celebrities.”
After “Mommie” had a major heart attack in 2003, she shifted to a consulting role and handed ownership to her daughter Tedra Rose, who kept the business open after her mom died Sunday.
“She was — she is — a guardian angel, and she’d want someone to always be at the counter,” Tedra said.
Sure enough, a steady stream of customers stopped by Friday, including Loretta Keller, who said she comes about three times a week.
Keller said the food is excellent — that hasn’t changed — but that she was already missing someone who, since they met in 2007, was always helping out in small ways.
“She was a good person,” Keller said, emphasizing each word. “If you’ve ever met a person with a pure soul, that was her.”
Pure, but no pushover, said her daughter Takesha Pryor, who also helps run the business.
“You try to make any kind of change that’s going to make it not the real Mommie Helen’s, any cheaper ingredient, and she wouldn’t let it happen,” Pryor said. “Any meeting, she became the leader.”
Staying open was made easier by the outpouring of support the family has received in person and on Facebook, the family said.
“Dorothy Pryor ~ Truly a San Bernardino icon and treasure,” Councilman Rikke Van Johnson posted on the bakery’s page Thursday. “Leaving a lasting legacy for generations yet to come! Thank you for the time you shared with us, now enter into His kingdom! To God be the glory!!”
A person of strong faith, Pryor Rose was always getting into long conversations with people she’d just met and helping them out whenever she could, although she rarely told others what she’d done, said Tedra Rose.
“We called Preciado (Funeral Home), and they said, ‘You know, a few weeks ago your mom gave us a check to pay for someone else’s funeral, but not to tell anyone who did it,’” she said. “I don’t know who that was. It’s great seeing all the messages on social media from people we knew she helped and people we didn’t even know she knew.”
Scholarships, loans, free baked goods — it added up, Tedra Rose said. To make that charity a bit more organized, a foundation will be created in her name, she said.
All are welcome to celebrate Pryor Rose’s life at a viewing Monday from 4-9 p.m. at Preciado Funeral Home, 923 W. Mill St., San Bernardino, the bakery posted on Facebook. A “going home service” is scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Sunrise Church, 2759 Ayla Drive in Rialto.
Mommie Helen’s plans to stay in San Bernardino and expand, but Tuesday, for once, it will be closed, Pryor said.
“When she was in the hospital, she said to us, ‘Who’s at the counter? You need to have someone at the counter right now,’ ” Pryor said.
But Mommie’s funeral, she said — that marks something unique.