- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - Several weeks after a portrait of the late Winona businessman Paul Watkins disappeared from the family’s old manor, a relative is pleading for its return.

The 200-pound painting, valued at $6,500, vanished from Watkins Manor last month. A side door that’s typically locked was ajar the morning the artwork was reported missing, The (Rochester) Post-Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1tk4Kfl ) reported.

Ruth Watkins Fell, 71, of Rochester is Paul Watkins’ granddaughter. She hopes the thieves will return the piece of art that has great sentimental value to her family.

“It really saddens me that someone would actually do this,” Watkins Fell said. “There’s not another one . and he’s done all of these neat things for the community.”

Watkins is a former president of the company that might now be best known for Watkins Vanilla and other baking products. He eventually became a well-known philanthropist, donating artwork to local schools, churches and government buildings.

“He was a real pillar in the community,” Watkins Fell said. “The community ought to be outraged. However, there’s not that many people who remember who he was.”

In 1920, Watkins commissioned Minnesota artist Carl Bohnen to paint his portrait, as well as his wife’s. The paintings were displayed in the great hall of the mansion, which is open to the public and functions like a museum. The building also houses an assisted-living facility that’s run by Winona Health.

“It’s a pair, and now, that pair is broken,” Watkins Fell said of her grandparents’ portraits. “That’s the big mystery. Who wants this picture?”

Winona Police Chief Paul Bostrack said his department will continue to investigate.

“The monetary value of the portrait is not as important as the historic value and the historical significance of this painting to Watkins Manor and the Winona community,” said Betsy Midthun of Winona Health.

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Information from: Post-Bulletin, http://www.postbulletin.com

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