Elton E. Bell
August 17, 1932 – June 23, 2020
Elton (Al) Eugene Bell was born in Stewart, Tennessee, in 1932. Al and his two sisters and mother lived in Stewart until he was nine years old, when the family had to move to Detroit, Michigan. The move was necessary due to his mother's need to find a job with Ford Motor Company. At the end of World War II, Al and his family moved back to Paris, Tennessee, and stayed less than a year, finally moving back to Stewart until a few years later when the family moved back to Michigan. In 1976 Al married Eve and together raised their five children. From oldest to youngest are Jerry Bell, Gwen Bell, Mariana Mancini, Gemma Mancini, and Elena Mancini. Al and Eve have 16 grandchildren. In 1980, at the young age of 48, Al was stricken with a heart attack. After his recovery period, his doctor's told him that he could no longer work for General Motors. In 1984 Al and Eve moved to Florida, settling in Port Orange. After bypass surgery in 1985, Al decided that he should offer his time to his community, and at the recommendation of Charlie Rago a neighbor, he volunteered as a VIP with the Port Orange Police Department. Al continued to volunteer with the Police Department, and in 1987 one of Eve's customers recommended that he volunteer at Spruce Creek High School, because they are always looking for help. Bob Milliby was Principal at the time; Al met with him and offered to help with anything outside of the classroom that might be needed. Al soon found out that his gift was in fundraising! His special emphasis was on raising funds for things that the children or teachers needed. Along the way, Al organized a gathering at Sweetwater's Restaurant to show the school system how vital the work of the local principal was, there were approximately 100 attendees and not only was awareness and money raised, but all expenses of the dinner itself were covered in the fundraising. In 1988 AI's volunteer work branched out to include the Port Orange/South Daytona Chamber of Commerce, where he used his experience with the school system to help start the Crystal Apple Award program to recognize local teachers, always looking for ways to recognize people in the community especially those who helped young people. That year he worked hard to increase Chamber membership, assisting in bringing 60 new members into the Chamber. He received recognition as one of the Nations Top 20 volunteer sales persons in the membership contest. (The award was given by the National Chamber headquarters in Washington DC)
In 1986, not long after arriving in Port Orange, Al took to the neighborhood streets campaigning for a neighborhood block party for Devonwood subdivision. Doing what he does best (practicing persuasion), the neighbors came together for the festivities, and year after year, these block parties became more popular and well attended, with many folks coming from outside the neighborhood. Not satisfied with keeping it localized, Al wanted to share it with more people, so he went to the city manager and Mayor and began a campaign to expand. He met with Ken Parker, City Manager, and formed a plan. Through his involvement with the Chamber he came to know Debbie Conners, who was the local Executive Director. One day he told Debbie that he wanted to have a meeting of the community and needed community representatives and an idea took shape. Debbie helped gather 32 people, and asked Allen Green to chair the meeting. At that meeting Al introduced Allen and told the group that a city party was needed and they needed community input and ideas. Before that first meeting broke off, a plan was coming together!
Because of Al's perseverance, and buy-in from community leaders, the first Family Days was in 1995. By 1996, Devonwood subdivision hosted their last block party, and agreed to take their party to the Family Days event each year. Family has always been very important to Al, as he treasures his children and grandchildren every day. Al is quick to tell everyone how proud he is of his children and grandchildren. He has found great purpose and reward in providing for and nurturing his family. This love of children and all family was the driving force behind building a larger community family in the form of a citywide gathering called Family Days. At one of the first Family Days meetings the topic of naming came up, Shirley Jeeter offered Port Orange Family Days and everyone agreed that was the name! Also through this and other activities came to know Mayor Allen Green. Al constantly solicited people all year round to become involved in Family Days, he never gave up, and he still goes on. Through this, Al met Rita Adair, with the Chamber of Commerce. Rita also volunteered as secretary for Family Days, along with Shirley Jeeter, Robin Lasky, Elaine Brayton and Deb McCall who were all early volunteers. Rita and Elaine knew Pete Atwood, and introduced Pete and Al. Pete was very opinionated and although he sat back a bit, Al recognized that he could push a lot of things Pete's way and it would get handled. Pete volunteered to get door prizes from all the local businesses, did a great job with it! Pete was a hard worker and the two hit it off, agreed to share their strengths. Al always believed that allowing others to be themselves and do what they love is the best way to get things done. As Pete and Al continued to work together in Family Days, and shared many cups of coffee and many opinions, they became friends. When Al had major surgery for an aneurysm, Pete was there for Eve and the family everyday, sticking closer than a brother. Pete and Al compliment each other well in their community work, as Pete is great with records and details and Al is a good "front man"! John DiCesare, who Al had met with United Way, was also pivotal in supporting Al's family through his illness. The friendship between the three continues today. In 1999 Al became concerned that the Family Days group needed a place to store their supplies, and they approached Jim Paytas to explain their needs. Jim had become a very good friend to Al and his family, and was happy to help. In order to turn the small facility into a fundraising opportunity, Pete Atwood suggested that a small outdoor cooking area be included. As time went on, they met Robert Hall, Architect, and Robert suggested a design and the ball was rolling for what was originally named the Port Orange Performing Arts Pavilion. Over the next few years, the building fundraising efforts gained steam, and grew in size and function. Robert Hall made continual adjustments to the drawings! Jim Paytas and Bud Ritchey led the charge for fundraising, and the City of Port Orange, who owned the property, applied for and received a grant towards the building. After the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, the City decided to change the main purpose of the building to accommodate a shelter for storm purposes. This added considerably to the cost of the building, and Ken Parker brought it before the City Council, finally getting approval to complete construction. Al and the Family Days Board worked tirelessly to bring the dream to life! The building is now called the Lakeside Community Center and is a beautiful addition to the Port Orange City Center. Throughout this vast legacy of caring for his community, Al volunteered with the Heart Association, helping to raise money, the March of Dimes Walk America, American Cancer Society, the Very Special Arts Program, which recognizes support for people with disabilities and the arts. He was Ambassador for Destination Daytona, Ambassador for Daytona International Airport. This was a meet and greet program to give passengers information, etc., and Al connected this program with representatives of the Chamber. This program was such a success that people came from other states to model it. He has also been involved in fundraising for the Port Orange Annual Hospice Run Walk, to celebrate the spirit of care giving. (2002) He worked to develop a rain forest project, with Mrs. Richey, the Special Education teacher at Spruce Creek Elementary, to educate children in something that is not normally offered in curriculum. He also worked to support the local Happy Wanderers Volksmarch Club. Elaine Brayton was heading this up, and this was also the first organization to be in the Family Days expo (first year).
Who is your hero? "Eve, because she is my life, when I first saw her my life really began. She allowed me to be myself, she managed our money so I didn't have to, I didn't have to be concerned about anything except going to work and doing a good job. The song by Celine Dion, Because You Loved Me, says it well. "You're the one who held me up and never let me fall, you were my strength, my voice when I couldn't speak, you saw the best there was in me...I'm everything because you loved me. You gave me wings and made me fly..." What lesson from Eve do you still live by today? "To continue to work hard and share and therefore you will always have. She always strongly emphasized that there is nothing we can't do. " What lesson from your mother do you still live by today? "To always help your fellow man and be respectful to women …" (tears). Did you have any mentors in your life growing up? "Only my mother. At 2 and 3 years old I remember her and I being a team, my father was not in the picture. Mom and I would go and saw down a tree, trim it, chop it into pieces and cut wood with a double bladed axe before I was even 5. She needed help and we needed to survive. She was everything I needed, she fulfilled every need. We had nothing, but we were happy." Did you have hobbies as a child? "The only hobbies I had was my imagination, I could always run fast and I loved baseball, I had a red rubber ball that I threw against the barn everyday. The first time I got to play baseball was 10, it was the day of days." Tell me about your military service. " I didn't have to go, because I could have gotten a deferment because my mom was the only surviving Bell, I explained to her that I didn't want to defer, I volunteered, but I didn't weigh enough! Then I got drafted in 1954 during the Korean War. I set forth to make the best out of it, I made friends, stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas. My buddies and my Lt. were from Michigan. Sergeant formed a Drill Team and me and my buddies joined. I was trained in heavy infantry and would have gone to Korea. We practiced for hours and became very good at it. We did 15 minutes of silent no command steps. I ended up being retained in the US to help train. During basic training in 20 below weather I got pneumonia, I knew I had to tough it out so I could graduate. I did. This is what the Army taught me, respect and discipline. "
How did you spend your secular career? " Came out of the service in Michigan, and had a job with GM, Cadillac. I spent 29 years with GM. Tell me about the legacy you want to leave here on earth... that my kids and grandkids will go into a school or a building and they will see that I had a part in something worthwhile. Maybe it will give them the incentive to pay it forward and give back to their community. " In one word, how do you want to be described? " Honest , and Loving." Of all the things you've done to make Port Orange a better community what are you most proud of? "When I walk through the school yards, and I hear "Hi Grandpa Bell" that's what I'm most proud of, it all come together."
Eve , what do you admire most about Al? "His Kindness, he never gives up, and if he believes in something strongly enough, he will achieve it." What has he taught you over the years? "He has taught me to be forgiving and more loving." What legacy will he leave for your family? "That he thought about other people and most of all his family before himself." How has he made Port Orange a better place to live? " Because of his persistence, about the joy of togetherness, family and he wants to make the whole world a better place."
A time of celebration Elton will be schedule at a later date at Volusia Memorial Funeral Home, 4815 S Clyde Morris Blvd, Port Orange, Florida 32129.
Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at www.VolusiaMemorialFuneral.com for the Bell family.