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Many people who attended Thursday’s memorial service left messages of support on a banner honoring Joe Bell during a celebration of life service at Eastern Oregon University. More than 300 people attended the service that commemorated Bell, who was hit by a semi-truck on Oct. 9, 20 miles northwest of Kit Carson, Colo. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
More than 300 attend celebration of life service
Joe Bell was a man who did not have acquaintances, only friends he made quickly and never forgot.
Those friends turned out Thursday to remember Bell during a celebration of life service at Eastern Oregon University’s Gilbert Event Center. More than 300 people attended the service that commemorated the life of a man whose cross-country journey and compelling life story was cut short when he was hit by a semi-truck on Oct. 9, 20 miles northwest of Kit Carson, Colo.
Bell, who spoke to many groups about the evils of bullying during his walk, touched the lives of many people. The list includes Ed Jiovani of the Denver area, a man so moved by Bell’s anti-bullying efforts that he traveled to La Grande to speak at the service.
Jiovani touched on Bell’s uncommon ability to make almost instant connections with people.
“After the first time I met him in Colorado (this summer) I felt like he was an old college friend,” Jiovani said. ‘I’m so proud to have been one of his friends.”
Bell was in the sixth-month of a two-year walk to promote an anti-bullying program in remembrance of his son, Jadin, a gay La Grande High School sophomore, who died Feb. 3 from injuries sustained in a January suicide attempt. Jadin’s family and friends believe he was driven to suicide by bullying.
Jiovani spoke about how he has heard that at the end of one’s life people are given ground to stand on or they are granted wings.
“Today my friend you were granted wings,” Jiovani said.
Bell decided to make his walk not long after his son died. Bud Hill, a close family friend, recalled how surprised he was when Bell told him of his plans.
“My first words were, ‘Joe you can ride a bike,’” Hill said, adding Bell was not about to change his mind. “He said, ‘I’m walking.’ Joe could be a little stubborn. He wanted to leave immediately.”
The more than 300 people attending a celebration of life service for Joe Bell raised their hands and said “God Speed, Joe’’ Thursday at the Gilbert Event Center. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Hill and his friends were able to get Bell to hold off on leaving until April 20.
Hill said he has been plagued with “what if” thoughts following the accident. He said any number of things could have prevented Bell from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It tears me up thinking about it,” Hill said.
Hill, who helped start Bell’s Faces for Change anti-bullying foundation, realizes now that perhaps nothing could have prevented the accident.
“I know in my heart it was God’s will,” Hill said.
He concluded his presentation with reference to the term “God Speed,” a term used when someone starts a new journey. Hill then had everyone at the service hold hands, look up, and say in unison “God Speed, Joe.”
Paul Price of Haines said that only a few friends in life in make a lasting impression and the Bell was such a person. Price recalled that Bell told him he wanted to be with him when he took his first bull elk. Bell then made a point to accompany Price on every one of his elk hunts until he took his bull.
Price spoke of how Bell was always willing to take chances and was not afraid of risking embarrassment.
“He was not afraid to jump in with both feet even though he might land on his head,” Price said.
Price talked about the type of father Bell was. Whether he was helping his children learn to read to “Catching their first ball or their first fish’’ he was always there for them, Price said.
Dakota Larsen, a high school student from Umatilla County, spoke of how moved he was by Bell’s walk.
“He did so much, his story of determination is inspiring. He changed the world one mile at a time,” Larsen said.