Warm sendoff starts walk
by DICK MASON / The La Grande Observer
The Riverside Park Pavilion, rebuilt in 2012 following a fire, dates back a century. Countless weddings, birthdays and family reunions have been conducted there in the past 100 years. Still, it is doubtful that a more meaningful event has been conducted there than one which brought out the best of La Grande on Saturday morning.
The pavilion was the site of a send-off breakfast for Joe Bell, the La Grande father who will walk across the United States over the next two years to campaign against bullying in memory of his late son, Jadin.
The temperature inside the pavilion Saturday was chilly but there was no shortage of warmth in the greetings Bell received from the 300 to 400 people who came. Many offered heartfelt words of encouragement for Bell, who knew virtually everyone who dropped by. It was a poignant and hectic morning for Bell, one in which he found time to grant interviews with the media, including one with a Portland television station.
Steve Coles of Elgin saw irony in the situation as he ate breakfast with Bell, a good friend, around 8:30 a.m.
“This is crazy. You aren’t going to have two seconds to yourself (all morning) and then you will be all alone,” Coles said.
About 4-1/2 hours and countless embraces later, Bell was indeed alone, walking to Union on the first leg of a journey that will take him through the West, down through the South and finally north to the his destination, the Delaware coastline.
Bell’s walk will be an emotional one. His late son will serve as his inspiration. A gay 15-year-old La Grande High School sophomore, Jadin died Feb. 3 from injuries suffered from a suicide attempt Jan. 19. Jadin’s family and friends believe he was driven to suicide by bullying.
Following Jadin’s passing, a foundation, Faces For Change, was established in Jadin’s memory to promote anti-bullying programs. Joe Bell will be speaking on behalf of the foundation and Jadin throughout his journey.
“I want to get Jadin’s story out the best I can. I will be walking in Jadin’s honor,” Bell said.
Joe Bell will address all aspects of bullying including how important it is to tackle it first at home.
“It starts with raising children with respect and teaching them to respect others,” Bell said.
He also will talk about how critical it is for bystanders to step in and stop bullying when they see it occurring.
“Somebody who sits back is not as guilty but is not helping,” Bell said. “If enough people stand up to bullies, they will back away. What we need is numbers, more people to stand up.”
Bell has a clear, concise and easy to understand manner of expressing himself but says he is not a polished public speaker.
“But I will always speak from the heart,” he said.
Joe Bell is making the walk not only to honor Jadin and speak out against bullying but also to help him cope with his loss.
“I will always be thinking of Jadin,” Bell said.
The memories his family and many others have of Jadin were reinforced Saturday by a poignant moment just before his father started his walk. At least 20 colorful balloons were released by well wishers at Riverside Park in Jadin’s memory. The balloons conveyed a sense of tranquility, one shared by Joe Bell moments before the start of an epic life chapter in his life.
“I’m surprised I feel so calm. I believe it was meant to be,” Bell said.